In anticipation of Sunday’s Emmy Awards, this week WIRED staffers are looking back at some of their favorite shows from the last year.
“No sane person would do this,” director Ezra Edelman told WIRED in January, not long after his documentary O.J.: Made in America had become, somewhat improbably, one of the most engrossing TV-watching (and moviegoing) experiences of 2016. Edelman spent two years working on America, plunging into O.J. Simpson’s life and career without knowing what kind of footage he’d find, who would talk to him, or whether or not viewers would even want to revisit one of the most screen-saturating scandals of the 1990s. Those who’d followed the trial back then not only knew how the whole thing ended, some even considered themselves expert witnesses. Why would anyone want to go back, especially so soon after the high-end pulp of Ryan Murphy’s The People vs. O.J. Simpson?
As it turns out, a lot of folks had missed the real story—multiple stories, in fact. And while the series, which nabbed the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in February, is nominated for a half-dozen Emmy awards on , including Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking, one of its most hard-earned nominations may be in Outstanding Picture Editing for a Nonfiction Program. Made in America is, to be sure, a feat of raw reportage—Edelman and his producers conducted more than 70 interviews. But what editors Bret Granato, Maya Mumma, and Ben Sozanski accomplished was equally remarkable. They distilled hundreds of hours and countless narratives into a nearly eight-hour-long panoramic about everything from politics to race to the media—and somehow wrapped it all into a can’t-turn-away thriller.
Consider the series’ fifth and final episode, which starts with Simpson’s 1995 not-guilty verdict. By now, Made in America had already explored such topics as domestic abuse, the dark lure of celebrity, and the decades-long tensions between the LAPD and the city’s African-American community. The verdict might have been a narrative endpoint, or at least a chance to throw in a bunch of talking heads for some existential wheel-spinning. Instead, Edelman and his team keep moving, bringing us along as Simpson progresses (regresses?) into one of the most bizarre periods of his life: His sad, scuzzy post-trial turn as a peripatetic pariah, a time when he tried to reclaim his fame—only to end up in the middle of an inane trade-show robbery in a dinky Las Vegas hotel room.
That last hour, with its downfall-after-the-downfall sense of doomed inevitability, is as audacious as anything on TV recently: A marvel of compression and exposition, aided by choice archival footage, that manages to stand out as its own separate chapter, while also serving as a closing argument on Simpson’s career-spanning abuse of his own fame (it also makes the modern sporting-memorabilia scene feel like an underworld worthy of its own docu-examination). Most importantly, it proves that the Simpson’s life has more dimensions and entanglements than we ever imagined—it just needed a few filmmakers with a deep sense of patience and probing intelligence to bring it all together. Were the Made in America team members insane for trying to turn the story of O.J. into the story of America? Yup. Did they succeed? 100 percent.