FX’s ‘The People v. O.J. Simpson’ has taken the world of television by storm as it recounts the trial of a century, with Cuba Gooding Jr. as Simpson.
The intensity of the lawyer personalities aside, the show’s timing is also spot-on as most people view his guilt or innocence based on racial perceptions.
The horrific murder scene at the Brentwood home of OJ’s former wife Nicole Brown Simpson saw her corpse and that of a young man named Ron Goldman lying in huge pools of their own blood, savagely murdered.
In Episode 4, which first aired on February 23, we heard from Goldman’s father who tearfully begged prosecutor Marcia Clark to get a conviction and then described how his son was stabbed even after he was dead. Who did this? And why? This is the mystery that still exists today.
Here Monsters and Critics Managing Editor April Neale has a conversation about the fourth episode with TV Critic Ernie Estrella.
Ernie Estrella: April, this episode, called “100% Not Guilty”, is loaded with plenty to discuss as the hearings start up. We also get a sense of the stories outside the persons of interest.
April Neale: I love how Marcia Clark and former DA Chris Darden are circling each other personally, they are warming up to each other, and how the teams build their cases and how fluid it is day to day as things are discovered, flaws exposed.
EE: Marcia and Chris’ working relationship seems like the one thing viewers can embrace as the most human thing we can connect to, episode-to-episode.
Simpson’s defense team is an alpha shark tank and the behavior of outsiders looking in just reminds me that the hateful disposition wasn’t born in the advent of the internet.
It merely serves as a megahorn for people like that, but the scene with the focus group explains a lot about a cross-cut of the country, not only then, but now. We are divided so many ways, but this case really magnified it for a lot of those unaware, including the prosecution.
AN: True. Can you imagine if Twitter was around back then? Especially Black Twitter! Class, race and styles of operating in the legal world are all so jarringly different.
We have street-wise and personable Johnnie Cochran, brittle and aloof Robert Shapiro, blowhard F. Lee Bailey, quiet cerebral wildcard Barry Schenk, and total show boater Alan Dershowitz who never met a camera he didn’t love.
EE: Now we can’t overlook the dynamic shifting among the Dream Team defense. You have Shapiro who looks like he wants out of this case, with no desire to sit through a trial, F. Lee Bailey looking to prop Johnnie Cochran up, and in turn, he’s hoisting O.J. up. Courtney B. Vance has this calming effect whenever he’s on camera, building up O.J.’s confidence so that his body speaks that he’s innocent despite whatever the evidence tells.
I could never buy any of Shapiro’s bullshit or put up with his white flag waving if I was on that team, but Vance’s Cochran earned my trust.
AN: I think Shapiro and Cochran each detested each other based on this teleplay. Johnnie was a better communicator, he could speak on everyone’s level, that skill where you pace and frame your speech to the person you are speaking to win their trust. Shapiro appears to be an elitist.
I believe he felt this crime and O.J. was beneath him at a certain point. The F.Lee Bailey addition to me was superfluous, almost a hindrance in the overall endgame, and I love how he asks Shapiro who he should bill his hours to! Ha! He feels exactly like all internet entertainment writers do.
Alan Dershowitz and Cochran were by far the most energized and opinionated I believe in retrospect, and the way Evan Handler is turning out Alan, I like him even less if these dramatized meetings are even 50% accurate.
EE: These meetings behind closed doors are really the crux of this series. Not having read Jeffrey Toobin’s book [on which the series is based], or looked into it, I’m curious to know how these scenes were created.
Were they based on stories by actual parties, hearsay, or is it purely fiction? That’s the purpose of these series – to help funnel the interested parties to the essential points of interest and go further. I assume the truth is somewhere in the middle or a little of all of the above.
There are stories popping up all over the pop culture sites comparing reality and the show but some of these meetings, especially between Cochran and Simpson are fascinating. This is supposed to be a dream team of attorneys, but amongst themselves there’s a clear leader. No one told Robert Shapiro or he wasn’t smart enough to check his ego.
AN: Shapiro begins a slow steady descent into being ejected from the cool kids’ table. In reality and according to Toobin, it was Shapiro and Bailey who had the biggest falling out during this trial. Toobin had direct access and insight daily, he was all over the courtroom.
Assigned by Tina Brown at The New Yorker, Toobin was beginning his career as a legal commentator in 1994. He studied Shapiro, and he carefully sifted through legal documents and interpreted them with his legal eagle eye. In fact it was Toobin who first discovered what a racist Mark Fuhrman, the LAPD officer who was one of the first on the scene, actually was.
EE: Let’s take a quick look at that pile of evidence that gets whittled down each episode, which the defense decides to question every step of the way.
You could see the psychological effect of that strategy and how that must have just gotten under the skin of everyone sitting in the courtroom watching.
The way the series shows this unfold shows that these were desperate tactics when you look back but with little wiggle room, you had to admire how well the defense played it and they just kept chopping away at the prosecution.
AN: They were precision hackers at the prosecution’s case for sure. The glove scene being the cherry on every whack they took at anything presented. Most people understand that it is the defense lawyers’ job to get the client off.
What we wince at is that Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden – despite their hard work – were overmatched. They put witnesses on the stand who perjured themselves like Mark Furhman, and the lead detectives (Lange and Vanatter).
The nurse who drew 8cc’s of blood, then some blood was missing, and then he changed his story to say it was 6.5 ccs according to the court proceedings. If you have ever sat on a jury, these are the inconsistencies that a good judge will instruct you to take note of. The jury was given reasonable doubt. End of story.
EE: Yes, and that’s where the dream team earned its name. This is a good time to bring up the elevator ride because it’s a team that’s clearly divided.
Cochran has his people he brought with him but Bailey’s pissed about the pro bono conversation and mocks Shapiro in the media that we get another memorable F-bomb (that’s two now counting Paulson’s “motherf****r!” last week).
That elevator scene was tight to shoot and helped create that suffocating tone. It’s already one of my favorite scenes of this series, what did you think of it?
AN: Brilliant visual lensing of exactly what you point out: Suffocating! There’s only so much room for these gargantuan egos, and you can feel Shapiro slowly losing control of the lead position on the team. Brilliant work by the DP and director working together here to relay that moment.
EE: We also see our first emotional confrontation regarding the victims since the crime scene. Sure, that funeral scene crawled under your skin, but watching Fred, Ron Goldman’s father talk to Marcia in her office was the first time he’s truly acknowledged, as well as the brutality of his final moments.
The way they have Sarah Paulson playing Marcia, doubt is beginning to creep in and the parties on board are starting to sense it too, especially once the public perception begins to seep through and influence decisions.
AN: I still feel badly for the Goldmans, I cannot imagine having my child’s death trivialized. There was a sense of a sinking ship for sure. The hoopla, media and witnesses telling their stories ahead of the trial, the LA prosecutors couldn’t control it, and it showed. Allow me to digress here a sec.
EE: Please do.
AN: Remember the Jon Bennet Ramsey case? These two cases are eerily similar in some ways as both prime suspects that the public believed to be the obvious perpetrators walked.
And both cases involved people from rich homes. These cases were massively televised, both are still “unsolved”, and they are still talked about years after they happened. And both have nothing to do with any of us. My point? Motherf*****s with money skate.
EE: I guess that’s why I walk a lot. We’ve got a few more things before wrapping up this episode. Faye Resnick’s book blindsided the jury selection process and further postponed this trial.
I never read the book but stepping back, this series shows what a strange phenomenon that was happening.
Anyone who was remotely connected to this case used it to try to fabricate fame and opportunity for themselves, regardless of the backlash. It seemed like no one could hit the brakes and think about what it was that they were truly doing, which was counteractive in their intent.
AN: Connie Britton’s Xanax-y tour de force as old fey Faye was based on true events and is wonderful. Her Brentwood Hello or whatever that was…wow! Pass the bong.
EE: Is there anything else that you think the series is doing well or could do better thus far?
AN: The taught pacing, the superb casting, the research and painstaking details the writers cover…I am in awe. This kind of excellence in TV is rare, and when we get it, we need to thank the network and all involved for betting on this horse.
EE: And with that we should probably save Judge Ito (Kenneth Choi) for future conversations as his run on the series has just started.
AN: I have SO many questions about Sir Lance, his hourglasses and his pistol-packin’ Captain wife who worked with Fuhrman. Until next week.