Believe the buzz: The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story is really good - like, edge-of-your-seat, a little bit outrageously good. How could it not be? Based on Jeffrey Toobin's landmark book about the trial of the century, the 10-episode saga from director and executive producer Ryan Murphy features a blockbuster cast. Writers, producers and cast members shared gems from their experience shooting the series at the Television Critics Association winter previews Saturday, and even if you watched it on TV or think you know how this plays out, it's still gripping, world-class television. Here are five reasons why.
1. It's still an emotionally loaded story, some 20 years later. While shooting the series, Cuba Gooding Jr., who plays O.J. Simpson, was reunited with John Singleton, who not only directs an episode but is the only one among them who'd met and talked with O.J. "The first time I worked with John was on a film Boyz n the Hood," Gooding said. At the time, Singleton was young and inexperienced; he played video games between takes. On this set, "He was always questioning everything, every take, wanting to do it again and again. He became a real auteur." After their first take together, Singleton went into a room and cried. Sarah Paulson, who plays prosecutor Marcia Clark, was also deeply moved - experiencing herself the pressure Clark faced as she was battling with her husband and humiliated by Johnnie Cochran, played by Courtney B. Vance. "It was hard to sort of live in that," she said. "It was scary."
2. They have personal memories attached. Lots of people can remember where they were when they saw O.J.'s white Bronco on the L.A. freeway, or when he was acquitted in 1995 - the stars are no different. "I was in the middle of the Pulp Fiction resurrection," said John Travolta, who plays defense attorney Robert Shapiro. Jetting off to film festivals, he said "I was enjoying a second career." His father on the other hand, who worked for Vince Lombardi, was obsessed. "I would check in." For David Schwimmer, who plays O.J.'s friend and defense attorney Robert Kardashian, it was slightly more personal - and real. "I was living in LA, so I was very aware of the tension. You could feel it - it was palpable in the city." Friends was just taking off as a phenomenon. "I was in the strange space of the dizzying nature of my own. Living that world, at the same time really working hard to stay connected to the real world. I remember paying attention quite a bit to the trial during filming."
3. Yes, the Kardashians appear - but not how you might think. Out of some 400 scenes over the course of the series, about four or five feature Kardashians, Murphy said. But what might be most surprising is the true essence of the Kardashian patriarch, which Schwimmer uncovered in talking with Kris Jenner (played by Selma Blair in the series). A deeply religious man who prayed every day, Kardashian was "the heart and conscience," Schwimmer said. "He was the only person that had nothing to gain." Scenes portraying the Kardashian house were shot in the actual Kardashian home, by the way, so you can now say you've really seen Kim's childhood bedroom up close. You're welcome.
4. It's super well researched - and laywered up. "It was an endless obsession of trying to get it right," said executive producer Scott Alexander. Based on Jeffrey Toobin's book The Run of His Life: The People vs O.J. Simpson, the series was so meticulously researched, with teams pouring over photographs and stars reading several books from varying perspectives. "I never worked on a project that had as much legal vetting," Murphy said. "Every line of every script has been gone over by at least five lawyers. We had many conversations where they said 'Can you show us your research on that?'" It was slightly familiar terrain for Travolta, having worked on the film A Civil Action. And, he joked, "Prior to that, I had lots of dealings with lawyers." Ding!
5. It's an examination of celebrity, race, class and justice that's right on time. Executive producer Brad Simpson said that black people's celebration at O.J.'s acquittal shocked white people, who couldn't understand why it meant so much to them, while Nina Jacobson, another executive producer, said the case exposes racial fault lines that in America, people prefer to sweep under the rug. Through this story, the series brings our race baggage front and center. "We're in this endless conversation that's important to have," Simpson said, because in America, your skin color or economic status means "criminal justice is very different."
American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson premieres Tuesday, Feb. 2 at 10/9c on FX.