Unmissable: Forget the Kardashian kids and Travolta’s eyebrows, this show is about so much more

Robert Shapiro (John Travolta), Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer), O.J. Simpson (Cuba Gooding Jr)

Robert Shapiro (John Travolta), Robert Kardashian (David Schwimmer), O.J. Simpson (Cuba Gooding Jr) in American Crime Story: The People v. OJ Simpson. Photo: PA Photo/BBC/Fox. - Credit: PA

It started with a fanfare of fuss, focused unnecessarily on the eyebrows of the former Danny Zuko.

For some reason vast swathes of the Internet chose to write mainly about John Travolta’s appearance when the first episode of American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson was aired a few weeks ago.

Rather than lead in on the terrific performances - including his, in a real return to form - and great period detail, it was the pair of rather prominent caterpillars crawling across Travolta’s face that dominated the chat.

Ridiculous really, as the show has developed into one of the year’s best so far.

The writers’ ability to sustain tension, despite the fact that we all know how it ends up, is testament to the quality of the overall production, a spin-off from American Horror Story.

I say we all know the main narrative, but I expect that many don’t know the whole story - or at least didn’t at the start of the series, with a quick google and a trawl through Wikipedia filling them in.

Although pulling no punches and maintaining a brisk pace, the show is made with consideration for its younger viewers who may not have been around when the drama unfolded 20 years ago.

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The rather ham-fisted inclusion of the Kardashian girls (their late father Robert is OJ’s close friend and lawyer, played by David Schwimmer,) is one of the show’s weaker points, but an understandable device to connect with a teenage audience, putting the events into the context of 1990s Los Angeles, a city obsessed with celebrity in the same way it is today.

It makes sense from a 2016 TV producer’s perspective, so you sort of have to let it go.

And it’s a strange case of a show having a second wind as soon as each episode ends.

Countless times after the credits roll I’ve found myself - as I’m sure others have - heading straight to YouTube to watch clips of the real trial. It’s all there, all the witnesses giving evidence, the speeches by the “Dream Team” defending OJ and state prosecutors Marcia Clark and Chris Darden.

Among the many clips preserved include the infamous Bronco highway pursuit, the glove try-on and a nine-hour video of F. Lee Bailey (brilliantly played by Nathan Lane in the show) cross-examining detective Mark Fuhrman which once you start....it’s pretty gripping stuff.

This show is a shining example of taking a well-known ‘true’ story and telling it so well, so smartly and with such a good cast, that you start to question whether you ever knew the story in the first place.

That’s partly because of the central turn by Sarah Paulson as Clark, the workaholic chain-smoker involved in a fraught custody battle with her ex, suddenly thrust into the limelight by her prime role in the trial of the century.

A recent episode focused on the tabloid media’s coverage of her appearance, haircut, manner, professionalism and courtroom style, proving that the wicked ways of social media are nothing new in sniping at people who haven’t quite chosen to be in the spotlight.

She was fantastic, portraying a woman just about holding it together under intense pressure at home and at work, and even on the street as she’s accosted by headlines on the newsstands and reporters on the court steps.

Paulson’s performance is outstanding among a strong line-up alongside Cuba Gooding Jr (growing into his role as OJ), Steven Pasquale as Furhman, Connie Britton as Faye Resnick and Courtney B. Vance as the flamboyant showman Johnnie Cochran, part of the Dream Team alongside Lane’s Bailey, Travolta’s Shapiro and Schwimmer’s Kardashian.

What do you think? Email me at Elliot.furniss@archant.co.uk or follow me on Twitter @Elliot_Furni

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