The new FX limited series “The People v. O.J. Simpson” debuted Tuesday to rave reviews (read all about them here). We all know how the real-life murder trial turned out. The big mystery is what will be the best Emmy strategies for the starry cast including Oscar champ Cuba Gooding, Jr. (“Jerry Maguire”) who portrays Simpson and two-time Oscar nominee John Travolta as defense attorney Robert Shapiro.
Over the course of 10 episodes, the limited series details the chaotic behind-the-scenes dealings and maneuvering on both sides of the court. Beyond the case itself, the program goes to great lengths to put the events in context. At the time of the murders in 1994, Los Angeles was still on edge due to the riots two years earlier that followed the hotly-debated acquittals of local police using excessive force on African-American man Rodney King.
The opening episode, “From the Ashes of Tragedy,” features scenes of those riots, which laid the foundation for much of the media scrutiny surrounding the Simpson trial. Never before had an American hero of this magnitude been accused of murder and had his trial air live on television. The second installment, “The Run of His Life,’ chronicles the infamous Bronco chase, in which Simpson fled from his temporary home and police chased him for hours before he surrendered.
However, as the story moves along, defense attorney Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance) begins to assume command of the “dream team” of Simpson lawyers. That move pushes Shapiro into the background. As for Simpson, most of his scenes starting with the third episode (“The Dream Team”) see him in his jail cell or watching the trial from his seat.
So what does this mean for Gooding and Travolta, neither of whom has ever been nominated at the Emmys? Either or both could be listed in lead but supporting might be a better fit. Beyond those actors featured in other productions, they will have to vie for nominations against several impressive supporting performances from their own show: Sterling K. Brown (as Christopher Darden), Nathan Lane (as F. Lee Bailey), and David Schwimmer (as Robert Kardashian).
As the charismatic Vance has loads of screentime throughout the full run of the limited series, he will certainly be sumbitted as a lead actor on the Emmy ballot. However, competition could be fierce to reap his first-ever Emmy bid as he faces contenders including Bryan Cranston (“All the Way”), Benedict Cumberbatch (“Sherlock”), Idris Elba (“Luther“), Oscar Isaac (“Show Me a Hero“), Anthony Hopkins and Ian McKellen (“The Dresser”), and Patrick Wilson (“Fargo“).
Four-time Emmy nominee Sarah Paulson (who portrays prosecutor Marcia Clark) has strong material throughout the series, but watch out for the sixth episode titled “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.” It not only gives her great scenes in the courtroom but provides an emotional lift with a glimpse into her personal life and the intense scrutiny. While an easy pick to be nominated as a lead actress, she too faces tough competitors including Kathy Bates and Lady Gaga (“American Horror Story: Hotel“), Kirsten Dunst (“Fargo”), Sarah Hay (“Flesh and Bone”), Felicity Huffman (“American Crime“), Audra McDonald (“Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill”), and Kerry Washington (“Confirmation”).
Possible supporting actress nominees from this limited series include Selma Blair (as Kris Kardashian) and Connie Britton (as Faye Resnick).
And executive producer Ryan Murphy will have a tough decision of his own. The two-time Emmy champ (“Glee,” “The Normal Heart”) directed the first two episodes but must select only one for the Emmy ballot. A premiere episode is often a good choice, and this is an excellent one styled like a murder mystery. The second episode is more of an action-adventure film with the Bronco chase dominating much of the time.
“The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” airs every Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET/PT. As you watch the upcoming episodes, it’s time to have YOUR say in our TV forum. Give us your opinions and reviews, plus provide us with your advice about their Emmy campaign for this summer.
Photo Credit: Rob Latour/Variety/REX Shutterstock