The People v. O.J. Simpson Review: A Jury in Jail

If I don’t testify, they’re gonna think I got something to hide. — O.J. Simpson

Jury duty is something that, unlike many others in our society, I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve never been selected or chosen, though I still have plenty of years left on the earth. But, my fascination with the legal system and trials in general have peaked my interest in assisting the judicial process. That’s still true after this week’s American Crime Story, but I can say that for the first time, I can understand the opposite opinion.

This wasn’t quite as monumental an episode (in terms of those unforgettable moments, outside of one) from start to finish as the two that preceded it, but it was still a very entertaining hour. In some ways, it was better, because the story was much more open for our own interpretation and the writers took us on the right kind of ride to just sit back and enjoy the salaciousness of it all.

And, largely because of Barry Scheck, it’s one of my favorites.

The jury sequesters, the almost prison-like regulations placed upon these men and women for well over half a calendar year, and the resulting stir-craziness was the main subject. Racial tension, lost control, and helplessness reigned supreme, and most of it was well done. However, the episode was intriguing less for some of the overdramatized arguments between jurors and far more for the tactics employed by both sets of attorneys, who in effect used the jury as if its members were merely pieces in a board game. It was unseemly. And, it often IS unseemly.

Watching the show depict the mental calculations of who was in the Guilty and Not Guilty camps and which jurors were most detrimental and also most favorable to both the prosecution and the defense was fascinating. Director Anthony Hemingway takes us inside the defense war room, where names and photos shift as Johnnie Cochran and F. Lee Bailey plot to get rid of problematic jurors. We also see Marcia Clark and Chris Darden looking for reasons to challenge and replace certain people (generally minorities) who might be more sympathetic to Simpson, including one sports fan that took a photo with Simpson years prior and was excused.

Can you imagine being cut off from your family and friends, no television outside of a group viewing where the choices were limited — though one could do far worse than Martin and Seinfeld — and then being sent home seven months in and not even allowed to cast a vote on the very thing that had become your life? I’m surprised more of the discarded jurors weren’t angrier than we saw back during the trial, because I would have been hopping mad about it. Maybe, by that point, the sheer idea of going home and sleeping in a bed next to my wife might have been enough to think, “Who cares. I’m finally outta here.”

That is a terrible mistake for a criminalist to make, isn’t it? — Barry Scheck

Much more intriguing to me than some of the histrionics of the jury was a portion of the case I had been looking forward to the show finally depicting: Barry Scheck v. Dennis Fung. Here we saw DNA in its infancy get murdered, because a brash attorney who had immersed himself in DNA science and learned every minute detail was completely prepared to destroy a forensic analyst who wasn’t ready for prime time. During the original trial, I remember watching Scheck’s cross examination of Fung and thinking that DNA was complete nonsense, because this guy was such a horrendous witness. It was stunning that Clark would ever have put him on the stand in the first place, because the minimum level of prep or rehearsal would reveal just how pathetic he sounded when getting grilled.

Fung being so ill-prepared is a complete juxtaposition with O.J. desperately believing he should testify and the defense convincing him to run through a full mock cross examination first, before a final decision would be made. He was, as expected, horrifyingly bad, and they dodged that bullet. Fung wasn’t just bad, he sounded like a complete numbskull, and Scheck’s systematic mauling of him is something I will never forget.

Mr. Fung, have you made some bad choices in this case? — Barry Scheck

I, I, I don’t remember. I’m not sure. Maybe. — Dennis Fung

Rob Morrow was awesome as Scheck, even with the mildly disheveled hair and the cocky demeanor that made it obvious he knew he was in the process of decimating a large part of the state’s case. He was laid back in his office, reassuring Kardashian, but in the courtroom he was loud, talked quickly, and landed blow after blow to his victim on the stand. Once again, Sarah Paulson hit it out of the park in the scene that followed, as Clark closed her office door and did everything short of overturning her furniture. That was such great television to watch, from the moment the cross examination started to the closed-door tantrum.

It was a devastating moment in the trial, one of the three I remember most, and honestly, I wish we’d have gotten a bit more of that story and a bit less of the jury story. It wasn’t that the latter wasn’t well done, but there was a little too much “TV show” infused with that side of the narrative. The scene in the restaurant for example didn’t do much for me. Give me more Rob Morrow. The cross was so good and such a one-sided beatdown that I’m surprised the concepts of DNA evidence as a WHOLE ever survived it. The show depicted it as a bloodbath, and it was exactly that.

And Jun Hee Lee basically had to sit there and sell himself as a punching bag as Morrow killed him, which he did a good job of…it’s impossible not to feel sorry for Fung as you watch Scheck do unspeakable damage to him on the stand.

A strand of the larger story that has been building for a few weeks — highlighted by the garment bag sequence last week — is Robert Kardashian’s growing belief that his friend of 25 years did in fact murder his ex-wife and her male companion. Schwimmer’s performance has risen with the character’s reality check, and his unspoken reaction to Fung’s “1 in 170 million” bombshell was only supplanted by the brief, emotionally powerful scene with Selma Blair. Kardashian might be both the most sympathetic character outside of Darden, but is simultaneously also a mopey sad sack. There’s something to be said for the casting intelligence in the decision to hire the guy who performed the role of Ross Geller on Friends to play Robert Kardashian.

One subtle, yet thought-provoking moment came from Robert and Kris, where she tells him to quit the case as he cries into her arms and he tells her it would immediately make O.J. appear guilty. He’s right. It absolutely would have, so Bob was then trapped in the situation until the end of the trial. We will see if his demeanor continues to change, or if he grins and bears it and recedes into the background as we near the end of the season. He has been a far bigger part of the show than I anticipated at the outset, but it hasn’t been a bad thing.

Not that we weren’t all aware of this, but F. Lee Bailey is kind of a slimy prick, and as such, Nathan Lane is doing a fabulous job with the role. His scenes going back and forth with Cochran have been strong, and as the show is less about the crime and more about the trial itself, those two characters had to be great, and they have been. Now, we’re on our way to the home stretch, as the episode ends with the tip that indicates tapes of Mark Fuhrman using the worst word in the English language exist. Next week’s installment relies heavily on the race to get to the tapes and further impugn the defense-created boogeyman’s integrity and impartiality.

This week was also Kenneth Choi’s moment in the sun, as all the craziness surrounding the jury led Lance Ito to become a bigger name and play a larger part in the trial. The Dancing Ito’s skit made its way into the show, and while up to this point we’ve seen ole’ Lance as more of a guy who wanted to be famous, we now see him as a man with a job to do and about seven thousand things that continually get in the way of ending the trial.

F. Lee Bailey tells Johnnie Cochran point blank that if the jury questioning keeps at its current pace, the resulting mistrial would means Round 2. That would then be a win for the prosecution and a conviction down the line. What he knows is what the audience has known for 20 years: The defense is winning the case, because the facts are so irrelevant.

Cochran, who despite being made for television was also a damn fine defense attorney, listens and makes the right decision. He seeks out Marcia Clark during one of her cigarette breaks, but not for the usual debate. This time, it’s a peace offering.

I hear you take your coffee black. Two Sweet’N Lows. — Johnnie Cochran

We’re approaching the end of the limited series, and unquestionably, FX is thrilled with the reception. Dateline has interviewed Marcia Clark, Investigation Discovery is doing new specials on the case, and Jeffrey Toobin’s book is flying off shelves in stores and libraries. We know how the story ends, and in just about every episode, we’ve known exactly what was going to happen at that moment of the case.

But, when it’s executed correctly, it’s as addictive as the best mystery. American Crime Story was a good idea and it’s been an even better product. And on a final note, whoever continues to pick the soundtrack for the series deserves a standing ovation. Last night we got Queen at a perfect moment and Folk Implosion’s “Natural One” as Marcia Clark tried not to lose her mind post-Scheck. I forgot how much I enjoy that tune.

I’m @GuyNamedJason over on the Tweets. I try to avoid saccharin.

Written by Jason Martin