Armchair Detective

Exploring the chaotic behind-the-scenes happenings from both legal teams, The People vs. OJ Simpson represents the first attempt to recreate the 1995 trial of the former NFL star. When the bodies of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman were discovered outside Nicole’s house in June 1994, the police quickly identified the former footballer turned actor as their star suspect. More than twenty years after the trial, the case still remains one of American legal system’s best-known and most controversial decisions.

The latest in the true crime wave sweeping our TV screens and Netflix accounts focuses on the murder trial of OJ Simpson. The hugely controversial case is examined in the BBC’s new ten-part series, which debuted last week on BBC Two. Yet while the series scores big with viewers across the pond, it remains to be seen how well its recreated account grasps viewers’ attention in the UK.

It’s no secret real life ‘true crime’ documentary-dramas are sweeping the nation. Whether it’s scrutinising the evidence in these shows, or simply investigating who didn’t do the dishes, everyone’s a detective.  Just a matter of days before Christmas Making a Murderer was released on Netflix, and amateur sleuths haven’t looked back since. The case of Steven Avery has fuelled countless threads on Reddit, social media outbursts and even deep discussions in the pub. Everyone has their own theory, disbeliefs and verdict and it’s impossible not to spend hours reading everything Google throws up after finishing the series.

Yet while the success of the show popularised the genre to unprecedented levels, the breakthrough was first made with the podcast Serial, which dominated iTunes charts in late 2014. Taking more of a detective angle than Making a Murderer, although lacking in the shocking impact from the sight of evidence, Serial represents the start of the thirst for the true crime genre, examining the conviction of Adnan Syed for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 1999.

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Yet while the support for Steven Avery has been widespread, the case of Adnan Syed was considerably less clear-cut. Donning the Sherlock hat and dissecting the evidence, the audience must sit amongst the jury, tasked with making your own mind up, and that’s what makes these shows so compelling.

Yet perhaps the biggest motivation behind the huge audiences for these shows lies in the effect on everyday people. The show has given rise to the prominence of cases such as Steven Avery and Adnan Syed, both of whom have spent the bulk of their adult lives in prisons. While a petition to pardon Avery failed, despite collecting over half a million signatures, the public outcry and attention has given both men hope to fight the convictions.

In this lies the key difference to the OJ Simpson case. Before December’s premiere, few people could point to Manitowoc County on a map, never mind spend hours discussing evidence and speculating suspects. Yet the OJ Simpson case is the polar opposite. For some, Simpson was among the best of his generation in his sport, while others simply know him for the connection to America’s most tedious family through his defence attorney Robert Kardashian. Yet in some form or another, and to varying degrees, the world is aware of OJ Simpson’s 1995 trial. Time will tell if the BBC’s new series captures the imagination in quite the same way.

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