There were likely people who heard about FX’s American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. last year and assumed it would be, at best, an ill-advised highlight reel of the Simpson murder case. The Bronco chase, the glove, the Mark Furhman tapes, the way the country came to a standstill when the verdict was announced: Ironically, some of the show’s most surprising scenes came from these very well-trodden moments, including the smaller ones. (Consider the prosecutor Marcia Clark’s decision to get a perm—a move brutally mocked then and now.)
But in the hands of The People v. O.J., the hairdo mishap wasn’t an unfortunate, colorful bit of trivia. It was a window into the current of sexism that coursed through the trial—one that manifested as disdain for domestic-violence victims or scorn for working mothers with child-care needs. It was decisions like these, to recontextualize and elevate the familiar or mundane, that ultimately proved the show’s mettle as an incisive work of true crime.
Unlike with Making a Murderer, The Jinx, or Serial, the question of whodunnit is completely besides the point in The People v. O.J., which aired its finale Tuesday. Americans have had 20 years to pore over the (widely accessible) body of evidence, and decide whether Simpson killed Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman, before the FX show came along. So by disowning that burden, the writers were able to treat the show as a different kind of detective story: an examination of the processes, procedures, and errors that led to Simpson’s acquittal. The result was a series whose ending may have been written 20 years ago, but that still felt like a necessary addition to the canon of Simpson-related works, mostly for the way it used the trial to tackle the other ugly crimes of the age, including racism, sexism, domestic violence, and media bias.