TV

It’s Officially Johnnie Cochran Time On ‘The People V. O.J. Simpson’

The second episode of The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story went deep on the iconic white Bronco chase and ended with O.J. in handcuffs. It’s now officially lawyer time. And the third episode delivered just that, with the prosecution and defense both starting to form their theory of the case, as well as picking up new members like a rolling snowball. But the episode gave us much, much more than just that. Like, for example, Larry King in a wig. There’s a lot to get to, is my point. Let’s begin.

1) The episode was titled “The Dream Team,” a reference to the media’s nickname for the defense team that O.J. Simpson assembled for the trial, and it was largely about that process of assembly. Shapiro’s first call was to legendary trial attorney F. Lee Bailey (Nathan Lane), who made his name defending Sam Sheppard in the case that would later inspire both TV and film versions of The Fugitive, the latter of which came out in 1993, hence Travolta’s line, “We all saw the movie.” After that they brought in Alan Dershowitz, a brilliant legal scholar and defense attorney who became a professor at Harvard Law School at age 28. And most notably, they brought in Johnnie Cochran.

This was also the first episode where we saw the defense start to land a few blows. The first two episodes were about Shapiro kind of swimming in a furious attempt to keep his head above water, especially with the train-wreck of a press conference. Now they’re pushing back with the Fuhrman thing, and the New Yorker article, and the first inklings of their trial strategy becoming clear. This is where things really get cracking.

2) It was interesting to see how the show depicted Johnnie Cochran getting looped into the case. It was basically a two-pronged attack: One, from Shapiro and Bailey, who realized that they might need a more “downtown” member of the team if they wanted to put forward their theory of a racially biased LAPD railroading O.J. And two, from an increasing sense of internal pressure, first as he saw Shapiro butchering that press conference, and then as his media appearances starting turning from impartial analysis to borderline advocacy. Cochran’s in now, thanks to his meeting with O.J. in jail, so all that’s left it to wait and see how long it takes him to nudge Shapiro out of the lead, assurances be damned.

Oh, and for the love of God, screen the damn calls, Diane! Geez!

3) Bless this show, forever and always, because despite casting every other real-life role with an actor, when it came time to cast 1994 Larry King for the scene where Shapiro and Bailey are watching Dershowitz on CNN, I think they just decided to put a wig on 2016 Larry King and roll with it.

I wish they had done the same thing with Kato Kaelin.

4) Speaking of Kaelin, what a fun little glimpse we got into his life last night. In the span of about 30 seconds, a car full of women flashed him and a man spit on him. That’s a huge range of human interaction. I’m not sure how you even process it. I also choose to believe this still happens to Kaelin every day.

Last week I pointed out that the Bronco chase would have been nuts if it had taken place today, thanks mostly to social media. Twitter would have been a madhouse. And if we’re going to do that thought experiment — What would the O.J. trial have been like with the 2016 Internet? — let’s also point out that people would have gone nuts over Kato. Just nuts. There would have been 500 @NotKatoKaelin-style parody accounts, minimum. He would have ended up with like three reality shows. It would have been hilarious and awful. He really was a man before his time.

5) The flip side of the defense finally making headway on its case was the prosecution first starting to realize that they might be in trouble. Look at how confident everyone was at the beginning of the episode — Marcia Clark’s press conference, use of phrases like “slam dunk” and “all the aces” and “bulletproof” — compared with Clark sitting outside her house at the end of the episode, after her witnesses started parading to television for cash, after the New Yorker article, and after Christopher Darden informed her that a not insignificant number of black people thought O.J. was actually innocent. The word “motherf*cker” has rarely contained quite as much meaning as it did when she sighed it into her breakfast of pre-dawn coffee and cigarettes. It’s not going to get much better for her, either.

6) We need to pause here to discuss the episode’s cold open, because if we don’t, I might explode. Robert Kardashian took his kids out for a Father’s Day dinner at a fancy Los Angeles restaurant, and after a discussion about the guilt or innocence of the kids’ beloved “Uncle Juice” (NOTE: Robert called O.J. Simpson “Juice” seven times this episode, bringing our series total to 27), he gave this speech — to the Kardashian children — which I have transcribed verbatim: “We are Kardashians. And in this family, being a good person and a loyal friend is more important than being famous. Fame is fleeting. It’s hollow. It means nothing at all without a virtuous heart.”

What a remarkable collection of words that is. Look at them up there, all lined up in sentences with periods and spaces between them, like they’re just a regular thing to say. Now look at them again, but really soak them in. Pour them in a glass and drink them. Breathe them. I’m so happy we live in a world where Ross from Friends recited them to us. Life is beautiful.

7) One other note about that cold open: The song playing in the background was “Said I Loved You… But I Lied” by Michael Bolton, which is interesting in part because of O.J.’s big “I loved her” speech to Johnnie Cochran at the end, but mostly because of this paragraph from the Wikipedia page for O.J.’s former girlfriend, Paula Barbieri:

Barbieri had dated O. J. Simpson and was reportedly his last girlfriend before the murder of his ex-wife Nicole on June 12, 1994. She last saw him the night before the murders when they went to a fundraiser together. On the morning of the murders, Barbieri left Simpson a 30-minute-long message on his answering machine, breaking off their relationship. She indicated that she was flying to Las Vegas to be with singer Michael Bolton.

I actually pointed this out once before, during our discussion of the “Do not kill yourself in Kimmy’s bedroom!” scene, but I think it’s important to note again here. I feel like this should have been a bigger part of the prosecution’s case. I just picture Marcia Clark saying, “What would you do? You wake up and find a message that your girlfriend was leaving you for Michael Bolton. Imagine the rage inside you. What would you do?,” and then I picture one juror turning to another and whispering — a loud, breathy whisper, like he’s bad at it, like Homer Simpson — “He definitely killed those people.” Case closed.

8) The big theme the show is hitting early on, understandably, is the role race and the media played in turning this from a murder trial into a worldwide phenomenon, and the perfect intersection of those was the infamous Time cover that darkened O.J.’s mugshot, resulting in him appearing “blacker.” Time later apologized for the image, with the magazine’s editor “post[ing] an electronic message on a computer bulletin board” — the ’90s! — that said “It seems to me you could argue that it’s racist to say that blacker is more sinister, but be that as it may: To the extent that this caused offense to anyone, I obviously regret it.”

9) We also got our first real introduction to Mark Fuhrman, and his role in the trial. I loved that the proof he was a bad guy started with, “Johnny Carson didn’t like him.”

10) The New Yorker reporter who meets with Shapiro in this episode is Jeffrey Toobin, who later went on to write the book on which this series is based. And the article he writes in the episode — outlining the defense’s plans to use a theory of a corrupt investigation led by a racist cop — is real, too. Titled “An Incendiary Defense,” it paints a picture of the trial in the moments before it really gets humming.

At one level, it is a brilliant theory. It’s what some defense lawyers call a “judo defense,” in that it turns the strength of the prosecution’s case against the prosecution. The fact that the blood on the glove is consistent with the victims’ blood goes from being strong evidence of Simpson’s guilt — who else but Simpson could have been at both Nicole’s house and his own that night? — to being evidence of a police conspiracy. (However, if Simpson’s blood is found on the gloves, the defense theory will be harder to maintain.) If it was Fuhrman who transported the glove, then the bloody gloves become, for the defense, harmless at worst and exculpatory at best. That the Simpson defense team is advancing this theory shows just what kind of hardball it plans to play at the trial. For the theory, while ingenious, is also monstrous. It means that the defense will attempt to persuade a jury of Los Angeles citizens that one of their own police officers planted evidence to see an innocent man convicted of murder and, potentially, sent to the gas chamber.

It’s a fascinating read, especially in hindsight. If you, like me, have become hopelessly fascinated with this case all over again, definitely check it out.

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