A review of tonight's The People v. O.J. Simpson coming up just as soon as we vote on whether we're going to watch Martin or Seinfeld…
“A Jury in Jail” is something of a stylistic departure for The People v. O.J., not only focusing more on the previously-anonymous(*) jury pool, but going for a much lighter, stranger tone than earlier episodes. Not only is it borrowing heavily from the jury chapter (“Stockholm Syndrome”) of Toobin's book (albeit compressing a lot of the timeline), but it's largely set at a time in the trial, after Darden's glove fiasco, when the defense seemed to be steamrolling the prosecution, and where the entire atmosphere had become more circus-like than ever. (See also Judge Ito being dismayed by a glimpse of The Dancing Itos on Jay Leno's Tonight Show, one of the weirder bits of humor – but far from the only – to spring out of this double-murder trial. He wanted to be famous, but not this way.)
(*) The show's casting department did an impressive job of filling the jury with mostly unrecognizable actors, rather than going with familiar ringers; it only adds to the sense that the jurors were extremely disconnected from the rest of what we've seen so far.
The hour astutely captures not only the racial divide among the jurors – and note that right after that argument over Martin vs. Seinfeld, we cut to “Mayor of Brentwood” O.J. demonstrating a deep and abiding love for the latter – but the way the jurors began in time to feel like prisoners of the trial themselves. There's a lot of great detail here, and also several hilariously perfect song choices, like “Another One Bites the Dust” over the montage of jurors being dismissed, or “Fight the Power” as the jurors stage a protest by wearing black to the courtroom.
While the focus is mostly on the jurors, and on the gamesmanship between Marcia and Johnnie to stack the deck after the fact as best they can, Rob Morrow finally gets to come off the bench for an entertaining sequence where Barry Scheck annihilates poor LAPD criminalist Dennis Fung in cross-examination. It's amazing how just hearing names like Scheck and Fung send me back the 20 years in time, even as the series is going into so many other places – the contentious living conditions at the sequestration hotel, or that heartfelt and painful conversation between Bob Kardashian and Kris about his new belief in O.J.'s guilt – that we knew little to nothing about back then.
A nice change of pace. It's impressive that even within the confines of this 10-episode miniseries, the creative team has been able to do so many episodes like this and “Marcia Marcia Marcia” that feel distinct from one another. Whether watched weekly or binged down the road, it feels like a more entertaining approach than if it had been made directly with streaming in mind.
What did everybody else think?