Airtime: Tuesdays at 10PM on FX
Episode: Season 1, Episode 4 (S01E04)
One gripe I’ve heard about AMERICAN CRIME STORY so far is that it’s not clear whose story this is. Is it O. J.’s? If so, he’s getting suspiciously little screen time. Is it Marsha Clark’s story? They’ve certainly made her out to be a sympathetic, if imperfect, arbiter of justice but the show is far from resting on her shoulders. Is it the tale of huge personalities Rob Shapiro and Johnny Cochran? Is it an L.A story in general? Some might even argue thus far it’s been an origin story for the Kardashians. What IS this thing?
Well, the truth is it’s all of those things. And if that makes it feel a little all over the place, and not for you, then so be it. However, I am thoroughly enjoying every piece of this ever-moving story and ensemble cast that is now firing on all cylinders. The latest episode, “100 Percent Not Guilty” was perhaps the best yet.
It opens on O. J. and Rob Kardashian partying to C + C Music Factory’s “Everybody Dance Now” in the most 90’s club you’ve ever seen, then slams right into O. J. present day (well, 1994) sitting in a jail cell alone, where we assume he had been pondering his fall from such fame and fortune. For beginning with such an intimate look into O. J.’s frame of mind, the episode then careens out to the other characters, taking a look at how ALL of their lives, and how they see themselves, the world, and their loved ones, are being changed. It’s almost too many to process, going back to the “problem” of whose story this is.
We see Marsha struggle with jury selection. She’s confident she can win the case with a jury stacked with black females–she’s represented so many of them before (some of them even still write her LETTERS, she boasts). But it turns out the data shows black women do not like her. She’s forced to ask herself why. It’s suggested she make her look “softer” and to wear something besides pants-suits. It’s sad that Hillary Clinton still gets these same critiques today.
We see the most vile human being on the planet, who I had been previously unaware of, Faye Resnick, who has been told by a psychic that Nicole Simpson wants her to write a book. In honor of her. Yet she immediately goes into stories of Nicole’s drinking, drug habits, and promiscuity (look up what a “Brentwood Hello” is). The book ultimately causes a delay in the trial procedures, as Judge Ito decides he and the attorneys should read it to get an idea of if it will affect the public’s opinion, and thus jury selection.
We finally get introduced to Judge Ito, who is charming in his pure enthusiasm for taking on the biggest trial of his career. He just needs his wife (a police deputy) to sign a spousal conflict of interest form. She’s got to look at the police that will be involved in the trial and make sure she has no relationship with them. She hesitates at Mark Fuhrman. I’m not familiar enough with the case to know if this plays into something later, but I do know that Fuhrman (besides being admittedly bigoted) was also accused of some sexual harassment.
We even get a great scene with the father and sister of the OTHER victim in all this, Ron Goldman. It’s something you haven’t considered and you’re ashamed of it once you realize: after all the celebrity and sensationalism there was another real, normal, innocent human being whose life was taken from them–and he’s a footnote. It’s the trial for WHO KILLED NICOLE, not Ron. His father in a heartfelt diatribe laments this to Marsha. His son was a good person, who didn’t deserve to be stabbed repeatedly in the stomach, chest, and face, even after he was already dead. Sadly, I suspect this will be all the screen time the Goldman’s have for the rest of the series, but at least it was a memorable one.
Now, the definite “A” storyline of the episode was Rob Shapiro’s fall from lead councilman. Slowly Johnny Cochran’s presence looms and wins the minds and hearts of the other defense. Number one, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the defense’s best (see: ONLY) strategy will be the race card, and Shapiro is just not the figurehead to lead that charge (early in the episode he’s scolded by Johnny for referring to African Americans as “these people”). Shapiro’s next mistake came when he tells F. Lee Bailey he’ll be working pro bono on this case (but will be eating plenty of free meals off it for the rest of his life). Bailey doesn’t like this, feels slighted, and turns to Cochran’s side. Third and fatal mistake by Shapiro? He suggests O. J. confess to killing Nicole and Ron, but say it wasn’t intended. He brought the knife over to slash Nicole’s tires and things got out of hand. It was manslaughter, not murder in the first.
Kardashian’s had it with Shapiro at this point and pleads with Juice to make Cochran the head defense, who gets to speak at opening statements. For such a bold, cocky personality, O. J. is sheepishly avoidant of having to tell his friend Shapiro he doesn’t want him leading the way on his case. The rest of the defense has to hold his hand and walk him through it on a conference call.
Needless to say, Shapiro is none too happy with Johnny taking his place. And sure a lot of that has to do with ego. But in a scene with his wife, we see Shapiro also has a real concern about his city of Los Angeles. He knows Johnny is going to fuel the racial tension flames that all too recently set the city in literal flames. Shapiro sees himself uniquely able to stop that. But now that Johnny is lead councilman…
And just one last note about Courtney B. Vance’s performance as Johnny Cohcran: he is SO good. The absolutely winner in an already strong cast. My roommate watching with me remarked that he’s so good Vance has actually got him thinking O. J. might be innocent.
Paul co-created and writes for SHOWoff, a game that lets players predict what happens next on their favorite TV shows, earn points for what they get right, and see where they stack up against friends and the world (free in the iOS App store). Check out the SHOWoff app at playSHOWoff.com
Paul Gulyas | Contributor