The People v. O.J. Simpson Review: Conspiracy Theories
The gloves are our conviction. -- Marcia Clark
This piece might piss a few people off...just wanted that out there for the record, but the analogy I'm going to make is done more to make a point about the coverage of the case than anything else.
Also, some might wonder why this is our first American Crime Story review since my preview before the opening episode. The first batch of episodes FX provided to the press included 1-6, which would have been everything you saw before tonight. My review was more an overview of that entire group of shows, so as we're now caught up, it's time to get back to business. The People v. O.J. Simpson is indeed a smash hit, just as I assumed it would be, and it has captivated the nation. Though I've now seen episodes 7-9 as well, I will be doing weekly pieces going forward, up to and including the finale.
Tuesday's episode, entitled "Conspiracy Theories," was another excellent piece of writing from D.V. DeVincentis, who also wrote last week's phenomenal "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia" and the third installment of the series, "The Dream Team." He does an outstanding job of telling the story of the attorneys, which in more ways than perhaps ever before or ever again in a major court case, was the story of the actual trial. Where Cochran seemed made for the moment, even able to dodge scandal, Marcia Clark was not, and the show depicted it over and over last week.
What Marcia Clark believed was logical, but also relatively naive considering the stage: The facts were the only thing that mattered.
Flash forward to the 2016 election cycle, where Donald Trump, not Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, or anyone else, has dominated the media coverage and much of the GOP race. Trump is almost comically inept on policy, often not writing his own platform, unable to even recite it when asked and sometimes contradicting himself within the span of two sentences. Who knows what he really believes, how much of it is real, or if he intends to back off of every promise he's made, all of which have been the juiciest of red meat to his sycophantic supporters.
Think of Marcia Clark as, for example, Ted Cruz. She has almost all the facts on her side, including a ridiculous amount of physical evidence, the troubled history of the accused, and a timeline that backs the state's claim of Simpson as the perpetrator. But, Marcia Clark isn't seen as a celebrity, doesn't have the voice, the look, or the ability to read the room and pivot without anyone catching it quickly enough.
As ultimately and disgustingly wrong as it might be, both Johnnie Cochran (and certainly F. Lee Bailey as well) and Donald Trump share the skill of navigating the media and in fact controlling that cycle. One of the most important lines of dialogue in all of the series took place tonight, and it happened very early in the hour. Read the following sentence, then close your eyes for about ten seconds and apply this statement to every major news story, every huge trial, and every election:
If there's gonna be a media circus, you'd better well be the ringmaster. -- Alan Dershowitz
The truth of the O.J. trial has been made clear throughout the series, and it's certainly refreshing to see it presented in this manner. Cochran wanted to make the case about anything other than murder and forensics and facts. He wanted to present another narrative, which he says during a strategy session. And for Trump, let's make it about big talk, but with so few details it's possible to believe they don't exist at all.
The episode itself focused on four main aspects of the story. We see the escalation of the Marcia Clark-Christopher Darden flirtation and Darden failing to make the move both he and Clark wanted. We see Robert Kardashian asking himself and his colleagues and friends the question everyone should have asked. We see the continuing issues between Robert Shapiro and Johnnie Cochran, remedied at least momentarily by the biggest factor in the episode...
It's one of the three most important points of the trial itself, along with the vilification of Mark Fuhrman and Barry Scheck annihilating the forensic specialists, and the glove also presents one of the more famous courtroom photographs in American history. The way the show depicts that moment is stellar, as The People v. O.J. Simpson presents the argument between Darden and Clark over whether to have O.J. try it on, the recess that allowed Shapiro to try it on and recognize the size was off, and the manipulation of first F. Lee Bailey and then Johnnie Cochran to get Darden to ask for the demonstration. It was great television, as much of the series has been and continues to be.
Also rock solid was David Schwimmer, who plays Robert Kardashian as a man who desperately wants to believe his friend isn't a double murderer, but increasingly realizes that there are virtually no alternate theories of the crime. This is one of the things that irritated the living hell out of me as I first watched Making a Murderer, prior to realizing how slanted it actually was. We never, not once, heard a plausible other explanation for the death of Teresa Halbach. We didn't hear it from the attorneys in court because it wasn't permitted, but we never heard it in any of the interviews on the show either.
In the case of O.J. Simpson, I recall talking to a journalist who was working in Florida shortly after the verdict, where a large contingent of people believed Simpson was covering for his son, not wanting a potential murder conviction to destroy his life. But, outside of obscure places, that never gained any traction. The drug angle is mentioned early in the episode as Cochran discussed the Colombian Necktie, but again, it never really went anywhere.
Schwimmer and Malcolm Jamal Warner are strong together in the garment bag scene, and overall David does a good job of being uncertain and filled with anxiety.
Just as Trump speaks in vague rhetoric and simply changes his message to match whatever he thinks people want to hear on that day, Johnnie Cochran never gave a damn whether his client did it or not, as many defense attorneys don't -- or can't -- if they wish to be successful. He decided to tell a fiction, using the climate of racism and distrust of the LAPD as the catalyst to simply take the focus off of O.J. Simpson and place it on any other perceived boogeyman that might fit the bill. But even Cochran never presented anything plausible that would specify who ELSE might have actually committed the crime.
So, while we watch this series that holds our attention the way few can, it's amazing to sit back and remember just how much nonsense was spewed out that never in any way proved O.J. Simpson was innocent. It was about the attorneys, it was about Kato, it was about the secondary players, it was about an absurd glove demonstration, and it was about everything other than the victims and the defendant.
The People v. O.J. Simpson continues to do a pretty poor job at focusing on the victims, with Ron Goldman's father not even being in focus as he's in the background in the courtroom. We did get the answering machine message Darden leaves after the glove stunt goes horribly wrong, but that's really it. And, that's actually not something I scold the show for the more I've thought about it.
How often did we really think of Nicole and Ron during the trial? As many times as their faces, particularly hers, were smeared across our television screens on every conceivable network, how many times did we stop and think about their families or just the horror of their deaths? I would submit nowhere near enough, so in that way, the series reflects the attitudes of the world as we watched this insanity unfold for many months.
One of the more impressive things the show has done is turn a case we know so much about into such a weekly addiction. Actually, in another parallel to the election, the series is can't miss television. Donald Trump and Johnnie Cochran have transfixed the nation, and neither one of them would agree to stand on top of a floor comprised of their integrity or the actual substance of their arguments. But, we know how the trial ended. And, we're pretty sure we know who the nominee is likely to be, barring a catastrophic convention scenario or a rebirth of the events of 1968.
I know this is way out of sequence, but did you feel bad for Darden outside of Marcia Clark's hotel room? I know he's a good man and he's doing what he thinks is right, but he was pretty smooth with the office dancing and the compliments and the flirting and all...and neither of them were married. They both clearly wanted it, at least there's NO question of that in the show's narrative. And, as a result of him missing the mark not once, but twice with the "let's just go for it" debacle, the relationship became adversarial. That rift was greatly exacerbated when Darden fell into the defense trap of asking O.J. to try on the glove.
Last week may have solidified an Emmy for Sarah Paulson. She's been superb, as has Courtney B. Vance. Those two will very likely be walking away with multiple pieces of hardware, and it's hard to argue against either choice, despite Bokeem Woodbine and Kirsten Dunst and their performances in Fargo. I wouldn't be angry either way. Paulson and Vance are rock stars, and have been for quite some time. I would also love to see Sterling K. Brown get some serious recognition for an awesome portrayal of Chris Darden.
But, expect John Travolta to be nominated at worst and win a lead actor Emmy at best, and if that one happens, I do have a problem with it, because he's...how do I put this gently...
The actual Shapiro voice comes and goes, he moves like a Bond villain and not a California attorney, and the work is so overdone and hammed up that it stands out for all the wrong reasons. The cast of The People v. O.J. Simpson is one of its strongest aspects, with Travolta being the big caveat to that statement. He's got the producer credit and he's the biggest name, but he's the worst, by a wide margin, as an actual actor.
Virtually everybody he's been in a scene with at any time on American Crime Story has worked circles around him, like he's Shaquille O'Neal trying to guard Steph Curry in 2016. Because he's John Travolta, he'll get consideration he otherwise never would, but his colleagues all deserve it. It's not that I despise Travolta. I just think he stinks on this show.
Outside of that continuing annoyance, I thoroughly enjoy this show. I am addicted to it in the same way I couldn't tear my eyes off the screen during the actual trial. It's gotten stronger as it goes along, which is something I mentioned in my preview, and these last two have been objectively fantastic. When we get to the year's Top Ten, it's very likely we'll be revisiting The People v. O.J. Simpson. I'm excited to be delving into it weekly, and discussing it with you on social media. The show also does a great job at creating anticipation for more at the exact moment it's time to say goodnight, but never in a way that feels cheap. While it's not always perfect and sometimes goes way too Hollywood, it's really damn entertaining.
Even though the glove might not have fit, this show certainly seems just right. It's the right time. It's the right cast (almost). It's the right pace. And, fittingly, it airs on Tuesday, just like the most important days in the 2016 primary schedule.
I'm @GuyNamedJason. I too...enjoy a good Isotoner.