American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson – I was in high school during the O.J. Simpson murder trial, and while I can’t recall actually watching much of it, it was impossible to avoid. Pretty much every aspect of it became a meme in a time before “meme” was a household word. Jay Leno was still using references to it as punchlines years after the fact. Kind of morbid for a murder trial, perhaps, but sometimes joking about things is how we deal with them. That’s not to say all the jokes were funny, mind you. It was also a classic example of how the rich and famous can apparently get away with anything. I think I was in a pizza parlor when the jury announced they’d come to a verdict, and we watched the actual reveal in computer science class. Beth told me that she was on the stairs when she heard someone shout out, “The Juice is loose!”
The ten-episode miniseries, largely based on a book by Jeffrey Toobin, provides a look at the case that switches its focus between the people involved. I wondered how accurate a lot of it was, and according to the fact-checking articles on Slate, some bits that seem made up were actually true. Apparently the jury foreman really did fudge the name “Orenthal” when reading the verdict, for instance. Others were based on facts but switched around to make things simpler or a line more effective. “I’m not black, I’m O.J.” was something he was on the record as having said about twenty-six years earlier.
Of the acting performances, the one that stood out to critics was John Travolta as Robert Shapiro, who plays the lawyer as an over-the-top buffoon. Cuba Gooding Jr. just looked too small to play O.J., and his constantly talking in sports metaphors was quite corny. (“You want me to testify? Put me in, coach!”) I don’t know whether O.J. actually talked like that, though, so I’m not sure where the blame for the corniness lies. Between this role and his recently brought to light performance as Dr. Ben Carson, Gooding is getting good experience at playing guys who stabbed people. Sarah Paulson plays Marcia Clark quite sympathetically, although Beth and I thought the show seemed to be shipping her and Chris Darden. It’s nice to see Malcolm-Jamal Warner getting work now that nobody is showing The Cosby Show for obvious reasons, and the IMDB says one of the jurors is played by the same woman who was O.J.’s character’s wife in The Naked Gun. I don’t know that David Schwimmer has much acting range, but what I saw online suggests Robert Kardashian was actually a lot like that. He wasn’t really the subject of much focus during the trial, but is now retroactively famous through his daughters, so it’s no surprise that they were worked into the story. It’s interesting to note that, after viewers pointed out how often Schwimmer said “Juice” in the first few episodes, he hardly if ever did in subsequent ones.
It might just be because he wasn’t as significant a character, but I have to wonder if any additional footage of him saying “Juice” was cut. Kim Kardashian told Dr. Phil in 2009 that she and her sisters called Simpson “Uncle O.J.”, but I’m pretty sure “Uncle Juice” was intentionally ridiculous on the part of the show.
If I believed in karma, I’d say O.J. being arrested for armed robbery a few years ago was his divine retribution for getting away with murder. While that arrest obviously doesn’t prove he committed murder, it does show how much of a violent hothead he is. He’s up for parole next year, so maybe the Juice will be loose once again.