'The People v. O.J. Simpson' finale: How the show tackled race, the legal system

The 10-episode FX adaptation of the events surrounding the Simpson trial concluded on April 5.

Ray Mickshaw/FX/AP
'The People v. O.J. Simpson' stars Sarah Paulson (l.) and Sterling K. Brown (r.).

The FX series “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” which depicted the 1995 trial of Mr. Simpson, aired its finale on April 5, bringing the critically acclaimed series to an end. 

“Simpson” starred Cuba Gooding Jr. as the former athlete, while actors including Sarah Paulson, David Schwimmer, and John Travolta portrayed various members of the prosecution and the defense, respectively, who were involved in the trial. 

The series, which is the first in the “American Crime Story” franchise planned by executive producer Ryan Murphy of “American Horror Story,” drew critical acclaim from the start, with reviewers praising the way the show portrayed issues of law and race in America. 

According to critics, the series maintained this quality to the end, with the season finale bringing the 10 episodes of content to a creatively satisfying close.

The episode depicted the end of the case, including closing arguments and the verdict being delivered in the case against Simpson.

New York Times writer James Poniewozik wrote of the finale and the series as a whole, “What makes ‘The People v. O. J. Simpson’ great historical drama is that it’s not about something that happened once. It’s about things that matter now. (And I don’t mean the Kardashians.) By showing us the past, it allows us to see things in our present that we’re too certain of our rightness to notice. It lets us at least try to see the world as others see it, unclouded by the way we have always seen it.” 

Variety critic Maureen Ryan found the series as a whole “fantastic.”

“We already knew the verdict, which you would think would drain the season finale of ‘American Crime Story’ of tension and suspense,” Ms. Ryan wrote. “And you would be wrong. Confounding expectations has been this drama’s strong suit from the start…. the writers, cast and directors dug into the characters and circumstances in ways that made the narrative come alive in powerful ways.… The crisp, wonderfully modulated finale felt fresh, important and vital, not least because even though that trial is over – the reconstructed version of it, anyway – the unfinished business of race still dominates American life today.” 

And Spencer Kornhaber of The Atlantic wrote that the series challenges viewers who experienced the Simpson trial to see it in a new light. 

“The notion of the Simpson affair as a sordid and ignoble piece of history, at best a cautionary tale but mostly an embarrassment that should be forgotten, is commonly held,” Mr. Kornhaber wrote. “'American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson,’ on some level, rebukes it. For nearly every figure transformed by the media spectacle into caricature or villain, it countered with a complicated human being trying to do the right thing. Last night’s finale left open the question of whether there was a wider lesson to be learned, but it made very clear that there were wider forces at work to explain the not-guilty verdict that many people found baffling. It also made clear that those forces are still at work today, and that to disregard them is to miss how the world functions.”

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