Wednesday, April 24, 2024

“The People vs. OJ Simpson” Comes to An End, A Beautifully Made Soap Opera Fantasy


Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander’s “The People vs. OJ Simpson” comes to an end tonight. We know how it ends, don’t we? At least, that part of the story.

Watching this 10 part mini-series was fascinating for me, because I spent so much time writing and reporting the criminal case in 1994-95. I’ve followed the episodes, admired them for their craftmanship. Yes, the whole thing deserves many Emmy Awards. It’s put great actors like Sarah Paulson, Courtney B. Vance, and Sterling K. Brown on the map.

Does it bear any relationship to the case I covered? Not much, actually.

Marcia Clark was outplayed. She was terrible. Nothing that was written– by me, by any press in Los Angeles, by Dominick Dunne, by Newsweek– none of it made any impression on her. Chris Darden was the same. In the movie, they are star crossed lovers, sympathetic heroes who can’t get a break. Hah! They were in reality clueless. I could never understand how they got book deals, or became even temporary celebrities.

Everything was a surprise to Marcia Clark. It was my report, in New York Magazine, that revealed Kato Kaelin (who’s really a piece of work) had sold his book for a million bucks even after the judge had cautioned witnesses not to sell their stories. We tried to tell Marcia. It was only at the last minute that she flipped Kato into a hostile witness. But by then it was too late.

(Sadly, the show skipped the preliminary hearings, OJ’s early days in jail, etc., how Kato was picked up from the police station and brought straight to OJ’s house for a big meeting.)

She and Darden were also clueless about OJ’s medical history, and his physical status. They dismissed a juror (in the excellent jury episode) because they were a patient of OJ’s doctor Bertram Maltz. But they never questioned why Dr. Maltz was replaced by Rob Huizenga, who I think was shown (for a second) testifying in last week’s episode. Clark and Darden just never understood that whole part of the case.

Of course, the Kardashian family meant nothing in 1995. They’ve been inserted here, I guess, for current celebrity value. Kris was Nicole’s bar hopping buddy. She was a useless friend. Robert Kardashian is portrayed here like a deer in headlights, crying, whimpering, carrying on. Please. He was OJ’s fervent supporter. He only started changing his tune to Larry Schiller afterwards, and when he became ill. And where are OJ’s other posse, like secretary Cathy Randa, or Ron Shipp, or any number of people who were involved in the cult of OJ.

Then there’s OJ himself. I love Cuba Gooding, Jr. But OJ was somnolent, brooding. There was talk that he was medicated in court because he couldn’t control himself. He was prone to outbursts. But he was hardly vivacious or gregarious.

(And look, last week–“Manna from Heaven”– a whole episode devoted to the “Fuhrmann tapes”– which in the end weren’t allowed into evidence except for one line.  The trial was not about those tapes, which, by the way, disappeared from the conversation instantly.)

The show is beautifully made, I’ll say it again. But the writers made the lawyers out as heroes, when they were really villains (the Dream Team) and idiots (the prosecution). There were no heroes. I’m all for Sarah Paulson getting her gold statues, which she deserves. But Marcia Clark deserved no awards. OJ went free. It was only a twist of fate, karma, and timing that put him in jail years later.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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