Thursday, February 25, 2016

The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story 1x04 "100% Not Guilty" (Welcome to the Show) [Contributor: Rae Nudson]

“100% Not Guilty”
Original Airdate: February 23, 2016

The party that opens this episode is in O.J.’s memory. He is in jail from now until the trial, so he won’t be at any parties anytime soon. But the extravagance and flashing lights on the dance floor in O.J.’s mind set up the atmosphere for the rest of the episode. As soon as Bob Shapiro talks to the media, as soon as Judge Ito signs on to the case, as soon as jurors enter that courtroom, the entire judicial process turns into a circus. The camera angles turn literally upside down and zoom around the room, potential jurors fill the courtroom like dancers filled the club in O.J.’s memory, and Bob Shapiro and Johnnie Cochran grandstand as if they are celebrities. And, of course, they are.


This episode clearly introduces the frenzied, circus aspect of the trial, and how each performer prepares for their roles. One of the best scenes in a solid episode was Johnnie Cochran building up O.J. to face this trial. It’s just the two of them, and Johnnie tells O.J. that the walls that keep him in prison don’t change who he is and what he means to people. It does a great job of setting up how O.J. was viewed at that time: as a powerful, charismatic black man who was the public face of a huge corporation and a hero on the football field. O.J. was an inspiration to so many people, and those people couldn’t — or won’t — see him as a killer.

That talk apparently gave O.J. his swagger back because he was all smiles and charm when he entered the courtroom and pled “absolutely, 100% not guilty.” (As if you can be just a little bit guilty of committing a crime.)

There was a lot of swagger on O.J.’s dream team, as it turns out. Bob Shapiro was playing alpha male to prove that he wasn’t in over his head with a double homicide, but every move he made just proved that he was, in fact, in over his head. After he held a poorly advised press conference, he left town for Hawaii. On both counts, Johnnie managed to upstage him quite easily. While Bob was standing on the courthouse steps telling reporters that the prosecution was dismissing too many black people from the jury, Johnnie sat down for a shoe shine and had reporters crowding around him without him needing to announce anything, and as soon as Bob left for Hawaii, Johnnie went straight to his office and took all the files on O.J. Bob may think he’s in charge, but Johnnie sits in the head seat at jury selection, and all the lawyers on O.J.’s team turn to Johnnie for decisions. Eventually, in a painfully long and drawn out scene where everyone avoided the topic directly (seriously, why did they drag that out so much?), O.J. finally made Johnnie his lead lawyer. And opening statements are in less than a month.


Whatever the opposite of a shoe shine press conference is, that’s what Marcia dealt with this episode. She met with the father of Ron Goldman in a heart-wrenching scene where he said that Ron became an afterthought to this whole ridiculous proceeding. And he’s not wrong. Often what gets lost in this circus of a trial is that two human beings lost their lives and their killer was never brought to justice. Marcia promised that they would get O.J. for this, but as we know, that’s a promise she can’t keep.

Marcia had a bad day pretty much the entire episode. When preparing for jury selection, an entire room of people called her a bitch and then laughed about it. The jury selection consultant suggested she soften her appearance. (Yeah, definitely wear pastels and smile when you’re trying to convict someone for stabbing two people; you will definitely be taken seriously and it will definitely work.) Every decision Marcia makes is doubly painful to watch because I know that what she thinks is helping her will ultimately hurt her case.


Judge Ito gets assigned to the case, and his wife has to sign a spousal conflict form. His wife hesitates over Mark Fuhrman’s name, and I am sure that will come into play later. Actually, in a trial that will eventually be about police misconduct, it can’t be ideal that the judge is married to a police officer, either. (It’s all about optics.)

The morally corrupt Faye Resnick makes her move and publishes a book about her and Nicole’s relationship. Connie Britton’s performance is so loopy and endearing, and I would watch an entire hour of Faye lovingly talk about Nicole giving “Brentwood hellos” and loving her breast implants.

Faye’s book is published in record time and adds to the themes of fame and perception versus reality. For as much as this trial is about Nicole, the only things known about her are from other people talking about her. But the truth might not matter much anyway.

I am really impressed with the cinematography on this show. I love the dramatic zooms from slightly underneath people’s faces — like O.J. in the courtroom and Faye when she’s talking about her book. The extreme close-up almost distorts their faces and gives the off-kilter feeling of a horror movie. The dizzying views of the courtroom matched the feeling of interviewing and selecting jurors from over 900 people with a questionnaire that included hundreds of questions. Every angle and every scene is thoughtful and adds to the story.

Notes from the case file:
  • Isn’t it crazy that people described accused murderer O.J. as masculine and charming and described the women associated with this case — the victim and the prosecutor — as “goldigger” and “bitch”? Hmm, maybe not so crazy. 
  • I am seeing a flirty flirt vibe from Marcia and Chris Darden. 
  • “There’s no good time to find out your best friend has been murdered, but particularly not three days into cocaine treatment.”
  • “When did they get a black guy?”
  • “We are going to sell a lot of books — in a very non-exploitive way, of course.”
  • F. Scott Bailey and Johnnie Cochran are so much better at this than Robert Shapiro. They could out-lawyer him with their eyes closed.


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