‘The Life & Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson’ wants you to see her as more than just a victim

Thirty years after Nicole Brown Simpson’s murder, and a few months after O.J. Simpson’s death, Lifetime revisits “the trial of the century” with “The Life & Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson,” a project whose title indicates its desire to paint her as more than just a victim. While the producers can’t bring much new to the case, the docuseries talks to the right people in laying out her side of the story.

As vivid as the details were when Nicole Brown was brutally murdered in June 1994 and her husband, football star O.J. Simpson, was charged with the crime, certain aspects have surely faded from memory, such as how she was an 18-year-old hostess when he first approached her – “just a girl from Laguna,” her sister Dominique Brown says, who “met a guy that swept her off her feet.”

Nicole’s other sisters, Denise and Tanya, join family friends in remembering her, and there are plenty of tears along the way – including a visit to her grave near the end of the four chapters – as well as anger about how the media depicted her. “They were painting her as this party girl,” Denise says, paired with a tabloid picture of her in a bikini on a boat. “They were painting her as this person that she was not.”

The producers (whose credits include Lifetime’s “Surviving R. Kelly”) use old home movies to flesh out Nicole’s seemingly idyllic upbringing, her initial whirlwind romance and the darker side of her marriage to the footballer and actor. That includes going back to the history of domestic-violence calls beginning with Simpson’s first wife, Marguerite, and talking to a retired LAPD detective, Terry Schauer, who responded to an incident at their house.

Tanya Brown, Dominique Brown and Denise Brown are featured in "The Life and Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson." - A+E
Tanya Brown, Dominique Brown and Denise Brown are featured in "The Life and Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson." - A+E

What follows is a dense dissection of Simpson’s controlling nature (which included, a Brown family friend says, insisting that Nicole not breastfeed), his infidelity and his jealousy regarding other men once they separated, particularly her relationship with another standout USC running back, Marcus Allen.

Everyone looks a bit older, but there are few stones unturned by the producing team, incorporating interviews with the Brown sisters, Kato Kaelin, Faye Resnick, detective Tom Lange and other peripheral players who figured prominently in the trial. Some of the anecdotes are heartbreaking, with Denise recalling a “gut-wrenching, curdling scream out of my parents’ bedroom” when they were notified of Nicole’s murder.

Simpson’s death in April rekindled discussion regarding the case, although the emphasis here stays squarely on how his actions and behavior impacted Nicole, so much so that Denise – the most outspoken and visible family member during and after the trial – states right off the bat that she intends to avoid speaking his name.

What “The Life & Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson” won’t do, almost certainly, is change many minds, or rival the depth associated with other past jumps into this story, from the dramatized “American Crime Story” to the sweeping ESPN docuseries “O.J.: Made in America.”

Simpson’s trial captivated the media in large part due to his celebrity and the televised proceedings, echoing through time with renewed attention arising at each major anniversary in the years since. Having watched more of that than is probably necessary (or healthy), Lifetime has credibly added another chapter to that filmography, without significantly advancing the ball.

“The Life & Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson” will air June 1 and 2 at 8 p.m. ET on Lifetime.

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