Tuesday, February 16, 2016

REVIEW: 'The People v. O.J. Simpson' - Shapiro Makes Several Key Hires for O.J.'s Defense in 'The Dream Team'

FX's The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story - Episode 1.03 "The Dream Team"

Marcia Clark announces that O.J. Simpson has been charged. Robert Shapiro seeks advice from F. Lee Bailey and comes up with a provocative strategy. As Shapiro starts putting together "The Dream Team," he must convince O.J. to hire Johnnie Cochran.

Issues of race and class were fundamental to the O.J. Simpson murder trial. They were issues heavily present in the society of the 1990s and still are to this day. That's why this story is still so relevant. During this time, O.J. believe he had transcended race. He broke out of the African American neighborhoods and made it big based on his own merits. He won over the entire country with his charm and charisma. He was able to live a life of luxury in Brentwood where he surrounded himself with white friends. He never used his fame in order to help racial relations in the country. This episode even features the quote: "I'm not black. I'm O.J." That perfectly describes just how delusional he really was during this high pressure situation. He wasn't personally affected by race until the trial. That forced him to see things from a different perspective just in the hopes of getting a "Not Guilty" verdict.

Right now, the case looms large over everyone involved. The entire country has their eyes on this trial following the national attention it got during the White Bronco chase. The media is more rampant than ever before. Both sides of this battle are affected by what's being said about the case on TV shows and in print. Marcia is losing key witnesses because they are speaking to media outlets in order to get a lucrative amount of money. Shapiro is angry that every legal commentator is talking about the slim chances of a victory in this case. But all of this attention on the media has a good influence on the case as well. Public perception is huge. That affects the actions of both sides of this legal battle. Shapiro is able to find a strategy because of all the attention that the case is getting throughout the counry. Meanwhile, all the attention forces Marcia and her fellow prosecutors to see the case as less of a slam dunk than they had originally thought.

The odds are stacked against O.J. with the trial. Marcia is confident that she will get a conviction because the facts of the case point directly towards O.J. being guilty. But the facts of the case won't be enough to get that conviction with this particular trial. Emotions are running high right now throughout the country. Everyone has an opinion on whether or not he did it. People are basing those opinions on their own personal experiences and views on O.J. African Americans can easily relate to being targeted and harassed by a corrupt police force. That is an issue in Los Angeles during this time. O.J. is on trial for murder. He's more than just a celebrity though. He's a black man who is being targeted by a lot of white people for a heinous crime that he may or may not have done. The opening of the series was so powerful because of how it laid out all the evidence that points to O.J. being guilty. And yet, the lines are becoming blurry now simply because O.J. has the money and influence to get everyone to question what actually happened that night.

That's the strategy that Shapiro puts together in this episode. He assembles a team of experts and lawyers to work on this case. They have the skills to call into question everything that happened that led to O.J.'s arrest. They will use this entire case in order to throw a pointed accusation at the LAPD for being a racist institution. That's a tactic Shapiro can use. He can't relate to it. He is a white man of wealth. He doesn't even think about it until he hears about it on the news from Johnnie Cochran. But it's also a very smart strategy as well. These racial issues are so prevalent in the society. Things are still very tense following the Rodney King riots. Shapiro is buying into that oppressive belief just in the hopes of getting his client off. But it's an effective strategy because of the national attention on the case at the moment. Every publication is featuring the O.J. trial as the top story. It's big news when someone else joins the "Dream Team" of lawyers. Together, they are able to assemble a plan to call into question every action the police made since the night Nicole and Ronald were murdered. It's chaos and a plea to the emotions of the jurors simply in order to create confusion and doubt that O.J. did it.

But O.J. really needs Johnnie Cochran on his side if he has any hope of this strategy actually working. Right now, he has a ton of lawyers who have expertly crafted this new plan of attack. But it will help immensely to have someone on the team who is a champion amongst the community for the discrimination against African American citizens. Johnnie has enjoyed the attention the O.J. case has gotten. He's been able to take advantage of it in order to appear in more news programs and bring attention to the horrible state of race relations in the city. Like most people, he thinks this case is a loser. He didn't want to be a part of it early on in the series. But now, he feels it calling for him. The Dream Team wants him and he wants to be a part of it. But he also needs to know that he's standing by O.J. for the right reasons. He doesn't want to defend this man simply because his money and influence can get him acquitted. He wants to stand up against the oppressive legal situation and its systemic racial problems. He needs to look O.J. in the eyes and know that this is a man worth fighting for. He gets that opportunity and O.J. comes through. He opens up to Johnnie in a way that does form a bond between the two. Johnnie truly does belief O.J. is innocent simply because of this short amount of time they have together. That means he'll be a very powerful adversary for Marcia to face off with in court.

However, it's a fight Marcia is more willing to face for what it really is now. She has had so much confidence over these first few episodes because the evidence was on her side. She has a solid track record with murder convictions and feels like this is a slam dunk case. This episode forces her to see just how powerful the emotions of this story really are though. Christopher Darden forces her to see things that way. He's from a community that actually believes O.J. could be innocent. It's for nothing more than being able to connect with his story of oppression at the hands of the legal system. Shapiro is making some big hires and Marcia needs to take him seriously. She needs to put in just as much work to make sure that her entire case doesn't fall apart. She needs to embrace the emotions of the moment. This is war and it's only going to get uglier moving forward.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Dream Team" was written by D.V. DeVincentis and directed by Anthony Hemingway.
  • Robert Kardashian really does seem like the foolish hero of the story. His kids enjoy the perks of him being recognized in public now. They see the fame and attention as wonderful - a trend that will continue as they grow up. But fame has a haunting price for him. He's only famous because of this horrible thing. He wants to stand by his friend during this terrible time but that means he's forced into the public spotlight - where he's not the most comfortable.
  • It's also meaningful that someone is willing to question why Robert is so willing to stand by O.J. during this trial. Kris wants to know why he thinks O.J. is innocent. Right now, it's nothing more than Robert not believing his friend could do such a violent action. 
  • Marcia wants to charge AC Cowlings for aiding and embedding a fugitive just in order to have a small victory before the big murder trial with O.J. She wants Darden to lead the charge which showcases just how much she respects him as a prosecutor. His insight on the case really is valuable to her in this hour.
  • Nathan Lane as F. Lee Bailey and Rob Morrow as Barry Scheck is some really strong casting. Both are fine additions in this episode.
  • However, it's weird that there's a random cut to Kato Kaelin in the middle of this episode. It shows just how divisive the outside world is to anyone connected to the case. But it's just a little too tangential to be all that meaningful at this moment in time.
  • Closing the episode on Marcia saying "Motherfucker" was pretty great.