It’s unsettling to watch a period piece about the 1990s. Period pieces about the 1890s made up a decent majority of what I watched throughout high school, but my mid-twenties seem suddenly marked by more than just 9os boy band nostalgia. This whole year has been rife with 90s references that I am just a few years too young to understand. The history of Hilary, for instance, is something I have had to educate myself on. For me, Hilary is a Senator, then a candidate, then a Secretary of State. This is where she begins for me. When her campaign ads and her opponents talk about her time as First Lady and this scandal or that achievement, the references mostly don’t reach me. But there’s this scene in The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story where Sarah Paulson’s Marcia Clark walks into a courtroom ready to do battle against a wife-beating accused murderer. All anyone cares about is her haircut. In that moment, I think I understood more about Hilary Clinton than I ever have.The series is a study in all the Murphy/Falchuk team can do right. It examines the O.J. crime, trial, and acquittal in as much granular detail as a contemporary audience can tolerate. There are many characters but each are established and given proper motivation and focus; we see Robert Kardashian, for instance, take the daily journey from presumption of innocence to queasy certainty of guilt. In a fascinating reversal of this journey we see O.J. himself seem to walk that journey in reverse.I came to The People V. O.J. Simpson knowing very little about the story. A good deal of the intended audience must be those who watched the original trial and I was just a bit too young. The kind of national obsession it commanded is something I have experienced in various smaller and more tawdry ways: Casey Anthony, Anthony Wiener, the Kardashians. But watching this fictionalization of the O.J. phenomenon has shed light for me on all that has come after. I live in a world where I am frequently asked to care about Kim Kardashian without really understanding where that demand came from. But theres something about seeing those mini Kardashians giddily caught up in their father’s O.J.-adjacent fame. It brings it all into some sort of warped focus. And though I wish I could help bringing politics into everything, there is much about this that presages the election of the first reality TV president.A lot of The People V. O.J. Simpson is predicated on the idea that a good story is the most powerful way to reach someone. Both the prosecution and the defense understand this, though it’s the defense that makes it their whole mantra. In many ways the show functions as a new appeal to another jury, almost an act of wish fulfillment that if only all that raw footage could be placed in its proper context- could be made into a story, we might take more than four hours to deliberate. Much has been made of the casting, and a quick google shows how incredibly on point it really is. Sarah Paulson portrayed Marcia Clark in an incredibly humanizing way that drew everything from feminist rage to tears of incredible pity. The best fiction aspires to portray its characters as complex enough that we can believe they are fully human. Although there are villains here, there are somehow… no villains here. There are a collection of humans who are alternately buoyed by the better angels of their nature and drowned by the fatal weaknesses in their characters.