Airtime: Tuesdays at 10PM on FX
Tweetable Takeaway: #PeoplevOJ goes for on an infamous ride in a white bronco.
The second episode of FX’s freshman drama series AMERICAN CRIME STORY, based around the events of the O. J. Simpson trial, is titled “The Run of His Life.” If you were over the age of five in 1994 when these events actually happened, that title probably gives away what this installment focuses on. Does a white Ford Bronco ring a bell? Still not getting it? Get back to Snapchatting, youngling. This show is for adults.
Yes, this is the episode in which O. J. very famously caught the attention of the entire country by leading police on an hours long chase across the empty freeways of Los Angeles. What you may not have known is that he wasn’t driving, he was in the back seat holding a gun to his head the entire time, and that it wasn’t even HIS white Ford Bronco; that belonged to fellow pro-football player and buddy Al Cowlings, who was also at the wheel. (SIDENOTE: I find it funny they have The Cosby Show’s Malcolm Jamal-Warner playing A.C, as an actor may need to be cast to play Jamal-Warner himself in the undoubtedly upcoming American Crime Story: Season 11, The People v. Bill Cosby).
Yes, America all watched with bated breath that day (basically every major network covered the chase live, there was even a scene of the broadcasters airing the NBA finals deciding to leave the game in the “little screen” while the O. J. chase took precedent). Yes, many of us watched, but we were never in that Bronco with O. J. until now. After being accused of the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Simpson, O. J. is acting a little suspicious. How suspicious? He penned a few suicide letters to friends and family, signed them with smiley faces in the “O” of his name, and took off in his friend’s car with a gun and some framed photos, with no real destination in mind.
But he’s innocent until proven guilty! (SPOILER: in the end he’s essentially proven guilty but is presumed innocent). O. J. gets all the celebrity treatment in his epic flight from the LAPD. They clear the highways for him (supporters even make signs and cheer him on from freeway overpasses), and follow at a safe distance, more as an armed escort than as pursuers. In the time in the vehicle, we really see how close to ending it all O. J was. Cuba Gooding Jr. is certainly not trying to imitate O. J. himself but is taking the character in the best place he could to pull it off–and when he’s on screen you can’t take your eyes off him, like him or not.
David Schwimmer and John Travolta get nice moments to show off their own acting chops this episode. And while it’s sometimes hard to see anything but Ross Geller, Schwimmer is really selling his stint as Rob Kardashian (although there are one too many cute cutaways to the now uber-famous Kardashian children). Travolta is really having fun as slimeball Rob Shapiro. Oddly, the showmakers are going out of their way to present these real-life people in morally ambiguous terms–even O. J. comes off sympathetic while apologizing to the cops, and asking to just speak to his mother one last time–but they are not hiding the fact that Shapiro is one shady lawyer. He, though calmly, clearly lavishes in the spotlight and, when contrasted against Schwimmers’ emotional portrayal of Kardashian, looks like he could care less about his client O. J.’s well-being. He listens to smooth jazz on his car radio while the chase is in full effect. When he sees the Bronco on the news speeding down the 405, he verbally encourages O. J., as though he can hear him, saying good for you. What kind of lawyer thinks leading the police on an all day goose chase is a good thing?!
Also interestingly, they are taking the time to really set up the race issue, as it plays big into the trial later on, especially as Johnny Cochran becomes involved in the defense. Out of all these characters who were household names to me even as a child, the character of Christopher Darden is someone I’m not familiar with. I know he becomes involved in the case somehow (perhaps with the prosecution?) but in this episode they set him up as the one black guy in South Central who believes O. J. is guilty.
Sarah Paulson’s Marsha Clark is mostly relegated to gawking at just how much of a screw up the LAPD has on its hands, and scoffing at O. J. fans unwavering affection for him. But Paulson does it with a captivating flare. As the trial gets fired up in the coming episodes, I’m looking forward to Paulson becoming cast MVP, as I think she has the potential. And I’m also looking forward to the sure to be vast number of cut-away shots to Cuba stewing at the defense table silently.
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