It was the universal joke on spoiler alerts everywhere.
After watching all 10 episodes of the FX Network’s “American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson” no spoiler alert will be permitted on Tuesday. We all know the ending: O.J. is found not guilty.
Why then, in presenting Tuesday’s superb finale to the show, should the FX Network make a big deal out of wanting critics NOT to actually review the show until it airs, lest they reveal something the audience didn’t know? Triple that in the case of those of us who had read – and in my case reviewed – the Jeffrey Toobin book upon which the miniseries was based.
Many Americans were in horror and sorrow back when O.J. was acquitted in 1995. But then others celebrated. The trial that had proven that very little in the modern world could compete with fame in the raw separated us by skin color too.
It was all about fame first, color second – O.J.’s fame to begin with, and then the fame of the biggest shots in his legal “dream team” (F. Lee Bailey, Alan Dershowitz). By the time it was over, it created instant fame for those whose daily presence on television became progressively more visible – Marcia Clark, Johnnie Cochran, Lance Ito, Chris Darden, Robert Shapiro, Robert Kardashian.
I’m not fond of that kind of obnoxious access extortion – you can watch movies and TV shows but only if you review only when we say so – but there’s some sympathetic logic in letting the audience find out for themselves how a miniseries ends after 10 weeks, even though the climax is known to one and all. There are indeed new details to be seen in the show’s Tuesday finale. They’re going to make it as riveting as the whole thing has been for the past 10 weeks (or as bingeworthy as it will be for those saving it for one orgiastic marathon).
But then it’s been a smash triumph in general for everyone involved from the very first episode. It isn’t the television phenomenon that the case itself was in the mid-’90s. But as “The People v. O.J. Simpson” – written mostly by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski – progressed, it got better and better until its best episode by far – last week’s – showed us what happened when the fact of L.A. cop Mark Fuhrman’s nauseating racism exploded in open court. Toobin himself was saying on social media that the Fuhrman episode was his favorite of the series.
He was right. It was powerful television. What it got across – that the televised trial didn’t – is that the revelation of Fuhrman’s racism in supposedly collaborating on an unwritten screenplay about L.A. cops was, in itself, a historic event even though it would go a long way toward tainting the final verdict.
Tuesday’s finale is by no means an anticlimax. But the best episode of the show was last Tuesday’s.
What future journalists and historians are bound to find troublesome is that the performances we watched on weekly series television changed entirely the perceptions we had watching the events themselves unfold on a daily basis. Truth vs. fiction needs serious lengthy elucidation.
We knew from the real look of disbelief and horror on the face of Simpson’s best friend Bob Kardashian when the verdict was announced that he didn’t like the verdict and thought his best friend guilty. With actor David Schwimmer giving the best performance of his we’ve ever seen, the show gave us a Kardashian who was the show’s real hero, its moral center – a sweet, loving friend who’d come to be convinced of his friend’s guilt and suffered terribly thereafter. Schwimmer is now in an entirely different class as an actor.
How ironic that he played the father of the family that symbolizes today’s current junk celebrity.
So, in a different class now, is Courtney Vance playing Cochran. An actor friend of mine memorably cracked that Vance did Johnnie Cochran better than Cochran did. But that’s what happens when movie versions co-opt “reality.” (Was Clarence Darrow ever as electrifyingly charismatic as Spencer Tracy in “Inherit the Wind?” Not bloody likely. We can guess that Michelangelo was probably a couple heads shorter than Charlton Heston in “The Agony and the Ecstasy” too. The list goes on.)
John Travolta’s controversial portrayal of Shapiro had the unexpected boldness of portraying one of the trial’s current living survivors as a conceited prig always up for sale to the highest bidder. Sarah Paulson completely transformed Marcia Clark into a sympathetic figure beset by foolish pride but also a terribly problematic divorce in progress.
Sterling K. Brown was enormously powerful in conveying “The Darden Dilemma”: the successful, ambitious black man functioning in an exploitive white power structure. Darden’s great moment comes Tuesday.
I even came to have huge regard for Nathan Lane as Bailey, whose off-camera cunning actual trial watchers didn’t suspect. It turns out in the fictional version that Lane – one of the most ironic performers in America, one whose every performance seems to observe itself while in progress – was good casting, after all, as a “dream team” participant who knew exactly when and where his slimier expertise would be needed.
“The People v. O.J. Simpson” on Tuesday ends 10 weeks of great television. And it all happened in the same historic period when “The Good Wife” became even smarter and sexier as its own series finale loomed and when Showtime’s “Billions” gave us some of the gaudiest weekly dialogue on TV and the best weekly TV rivalry (Damien Lewis vs. Paul Giamatti.)
That’s just scratching the surface of contemporary weekly television.
We’re living in an utterly astounding TV era. It’s best never to forget it.
Story topics: O.J. Simpson