This review of American Crime Story contains spoilers.
American Crime Story Season 1 Episode 3
By the end of its third episode, American Crime Story has laid out two main themes of the miniseries: 1) everyone who is drawn into O.J. Simpson’s orbit will become (in)famous; and 2) race is at the heart of every aspect of this case.
Like the second episode devoted to the Bronco chase, “The Dream Team” spends its 43 minutes leisurely assembling the prosecution and the defense. Maybe it’s because I was watching the Hamilton number on last night’s Grammys, but I couldn’t help but examine these developments through the lens of dueling: Marcia Clark and Robert Shapiro each choose their seconds, as it were—Christopher Darden for her, Johnnie Cochran for him.
The trial hasn’t even begun, but already these lawyers are feeling hundreds of eyes on them: Clark’s office jokes about her burgeoning stardom, even though we viewers have the dramatic irony of knowing she’ll soon be the object of scorn; Cochran gets a prank call from “O.J.” to defend him before he actually gets called up.
But it’s Robert Kardashian who most demonstrates the strange, transformative power of fame. It’s the episode’s first scene, and one of its most fascinating: Trying to corral the kids into a quick Father’s Day brunch, his mind on their “pretend uncle” O.J., Kardashian unwittingly gets them the prime table at a crowded restaurant just because people recognize him. They don’t even get his name right, but that doesn’t matter: Kim, Kourtney, Khloe, and Rob all look on, wide-eyed, as they realize that their father’s face is better than any currency.
And yet, the kicker is deliciously ironic: Kardashian lectures his kids, “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.” You know that laughing through tears emoji? That was my face while watching this speech. The writers must have had so much fun with earnest scenes like that.
Speaking of writers, in a wonderfully meta move, the writers have brought in the character of Jeffrey Toobin, whose book The Run of His Life inspired American Crime Story. But first, in 1994, his coverage of the trial for The New Yorker was the first to report on the defense’s stance that LAPD detective Mark Fuhrman planted the evidence at Simpson’s home. In this version, a young Toobin gets that nugget of information from Shapiro, who’s looking to lay the groundwork as he courts Cochran. (But not too much—after all, this is still the Shapiro show.)
Toobin will show up in five more episodes, so it will be interesting to see how his coverage influences the public. Of course, some of his work is hampered by the unforgettable Time magazine cover darkening O.J.’s mugshot. We see the genesis of this bad editorial decision in this episode: Despite the editors’ intentions to “go more noir” and make O.J. look haunted, all they wind up doing is (in the blunt words of the newsstand owner) making him look blacker.
“I’m not black, I’m O.J.!” the harried suspect shouts at Shapiro and a skeptical F. Lee Bailey (Nathan Lane) later in the episode, in one of the series’ more laughable, yet very fitting, pieces of dialogue. It’s this edge of hysteria that makes it such compelling viewing: with the media muscling in on the trial before it’s officially started, both sides’ plans are going out the window. And regardless of what O.J. claims, what the American public does know him as a man who beats his wife—and it’s all on the 911 tapes released on the air.
We’re almost a third through this series and have yet to enter the courtroom, but American Crime Story is excellently ramping up the tension.