The second episode of The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story is titled “The Run of His Life,” a nod to both the Jeffrey Toobin book this series is based on and the fact that O.J. spent this entire episode on the run. That’s right, people. A full hour on the Bronco chase. Did we get Malcolm-Jamal Warner shouting, “You know who this is, dammit!” into a car phone? Yup! Did we get Travolta and Schwimmer reading a suicide note during a press conference? Yup! Did we get flustered Pizza Hut employees? Yup yup yup.
And we got so much more, too. Let’s discuss.
1) Structurally, using an entire episode to focus on the chase was an interesting decision. There’s so much ground to cover in the trial that it would seem — on paper, at least — like maybe not the best allocation of the show’s resources to use 10 percent of its limited run to cover what amounted to a few hours in real time. But it ended up working really well thanks to the show using the chase as a unifying theme to run with a few other threads that they keep coming back to: the media’s obsession with the trial, the prosecution getting left flat-footed, the role race played from beginning to end, etc. At first glance, this was an episode about a famous car chase. But really, it was all about setting the table.
2) Example: A solid chunk of the episode was devoted to Johnnie Cochran and Christopher Darden both getting sucked into the O.J. orbit, for very different reasons. With Cochran, it was the media and his history with the LAPD that kicked off the process, along with a heaping pile of disdain for Robert Shapiro. Courtney B. Vance is great as Cochran throughout the episode, most notably during his speech on the news about a former client the LAPD killed, but the highlight for me was his line reading of, “What a prick,” during the press conference. Accurate and delightful.
Darden, on the other hand, we see getting pulled in by his sense of law and order, and his frustration with the largely positive way O.J. was being received by the black community. Anyone familiar with the trial knows these two are on a bit of a collision course, and this episode got that process moving in a big way.
3) Everyone in this episode had serious problems. O.J. was tearing down the freeway with a gun to his head, just having a full-on meltdown. The DA’s office looked like fools in the public eye — not for the last time! — for letting this happen at all. And O.J.’s legal team now had a client looking very guilty on every television in America.
But maybe no one had bigger problems than the kid at Pizza Hut who ran out of cheese. Imagine the rest of his night:
CUSTOMER: Yo, I need three large pizzas.
KID: We’re out of cheese.
CUSTOMER: What the… how does Pizza Hut run out of cheese?
KID: O.J., man.
4) Really cool move to cut in lots of real news footage from the time. If you weren’t alive when the chase happened and/or old enough to remember it, it’s difficult to explain just how big a deal it was. I mean, it was on every channel, networks, not just 24-hour news stations. And they really did cut away from the NBA Finals to show live coverage of it, that wasn’t this show taking dramatic license. Using clips from the actual reports, and the actual chopper footage of the freeways, did a nice job of driving all of that home. Narcos used a similar technique to put real faces and places to the violence caused by Pablo Escobar, and it was one of the best parts of that show, too. If we’re going to do these big fancy true-crime recreations, I vote we keep this up.
5) The White Bronco chase would have been a Top 10 all-time Twitter moment if Twitter had been around in 1994. You’ll never convince me otherwise.
6) Last week the show mashed the Kardashian children into the proceedings by having O.J. almost commit suicide in Kim’s JTT-adorned childhood bedroom. This seemed like a bit much upon first view, but it turned out to be at least semi-accurate, so sure. We’ll let it slide. And it did give us David Schwimmer shouting, “Don’t kill yourself in Kimmy’s bedroom!,” so let’s call it a net-plus.
This week, on the other hand, we saw the Kardashian children huddled around a television quite literally chanting their last name after news reporters got it wrong during the press conference. I get the point they’re trying to make here, I think, that the O.J. trial had strange consequences both for the people involved and for celebrity culture, in general, but I could do without having it hammered into my brain by pint-sized Kardashians.
7) Quick shoutout to the music selections here. First, for setting the opening moments of the chase to “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys, because a) “Sabotage” is awesome and more — if not all — car chases should be set to it; and b) maybe it was a little on the nose for you, but hearing the word “Sabotage” over and over in an episode that started to drive home the distrust and suspicion the black community had for the LAPD at the time felt like a nice touch.
And second, for having Robert Shapiro pull up to his mansion listening to Al Jarreau while his client is speeding down the highway with about half the police force on his tail. I would give up to $20 for footage of Travolta singing along as he drove. Standing offer.
8) The whole Shapiro-Kardashian press conference was so weird, made weirder by the fact that it actually happened. Travolta’s face was magical throughout, naturally. When this whole thing is over we’re gonna need a supercut of him attempting to react to things.
9) A request: Please don’t ever break bad news to me, correct or otherwise, while wearing a tie like this. It’ll only make it worse.
Another Robert Kardashian note: He called O.J. “Juice” 13 times in this episode, bringing the grand total through two episodes to 20. So again, if you’re playing a drinking game where you do a shot every time it happens, God bless.
10) One of the big themes of this series is that it’s not going to take a stance on O.J.’s guilt or innocence, which means you can take O.J.’s freakout in the backseat one of two ways: One, as a guilty man falling apart after killing two people and realizing he could spend the rest of his life in jail, or; two, an innocent man falling apart after realizing he’s being railroaded for a double murder. How well the show pulls this off going forward — especially considering all the baggage that comes with this case — depends mostly on Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s performance. There were brief moments, flickers really, where I found myself feeling bad for O.J., even though I’m just about positive he committed the murders. I remain quite conflicted about this.
Okay, two episodes down, eight to go. O.J. is in custody. Crank up the Jarreau, people. It’s about to go down.