xml:space="preserve">
From left, Nathan Lane as F. Lee Bailey, Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran, John Travolta as Robert Shapiro, Cuba Gooding Jr. as O.J. Simpson, David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian.
From left, Nathan Lane as F. Lee Bailey, Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran, John Travolta as Robert Shapiro, Cuba Gooding Jr. as O.J. Simpson, David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian. (Ray Mickshaw/FX)

Tensions are high inside and out of the courtroom in the latest episode of "American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson." Unfortunately, the melodrama is also quite high.

The show continues to squander a solid story with strange direction and choices, and it is most evident in this fourth episode, titled "100% Not Guilty."

Advertisement

The episode opens to Simpson and his friend Robert Kardashian throwing down and getting their groove on at a club. Drinking, girls and dancing — really the only thing I want to see when I think of the O.J. trial. We are quickly taken from the fever dream back to the reality of a pathetic Simpson wasting away in his cell. The opening scene is a head-scratcher but it made me laugh and feel bad for Simpson.

The third episode of 'The People v. O.J. Simpson: An American Crime Story' focuses around Simpson's defense team building its case, and the addition of Johnnie Cochran.

The "dream team" is introduced to Johnnie Cochran with an awkward opening statement from Robert Shapiro asking if anyone thinks Simpson is guilty. We are then brought to the crux of the episode, the jury discussion.

Once again, the discussion regarding the actual court case is fascinating. The generalizations these attorneys draw regarding race and gender are unfortunate, but necessary aspects of the jury selection process.

After some more casual racism from Shapiro, establishing a rift between him and Cochran, we are taken to the courtroom. The first court argument is regarding hair, and it shows the defense's strategy of objecting to everything the prosecution brings to the table.

Johnnie Cochran visits the Juice in prison and gives a stark retelling of the influence Simpson had on his life.

"What I saw you do, on that field, that day, somehow as I was watching, it became as if you were running for me," Cochran said.

Cochran explains that Simpson has to stop acting pathetic and to convince the people that he is innocent through his actions, and that his case will be the run of his life.

For all its gossipy, even-silly, TMZ-like tone at times, "The People v. O.J. Simpson" will engage millions of viewers in events that contextualize today's emotionally charged national conversations about police-community relations and race.

We are introduced to the judge, Lance Ito (played by Kenneth Choi), then taken directly to the plea hearing. There we hear the titular quote from Simpson.

The camera zooms towards Simpson's face, and he says, "Absolutely, 100 percent not guilty." Cue the hip-hop music and some cheesy thumbs-ups from Simpson and Cochran.

The villainous nature of Robert Shapiro is then brought to light in a dinner scene with F. Lee Bailey. Shapiro vocalizes his mistrust for Cochran, establishes that he wants to make a plea deal, and establishes that Bailey is working for free, all in matter of sentences. We are not supposed to be on Shapiro's team in this episode.

We are then taken to Nicole Brown Simpson's best friend, Faye Resnick, discussing Nicole's life to book publishers. Resnick calls Nicole a good mother before describing her partying, cocaine use and sexual exploits. The whole scene is so over the top it is almost comical.

That outrageous scene was not to be outdone by the one involving the parents of the other victim, Ron Goldman. His dad speaks with Marcia Clark, who is clearly trying to help, and immediately starts yelling and crying. Despite the difficult nature of the subject matter, this scene is also quite funny. The mustache, the voice cracking, the silent woman who I'm not 100 percent sure is the mother, the ominous music: it all makes a funny, ridiculous scene.

"He was even stabbed… after he was dead," Goldman's dad says.

We then see the decision to take the death penalty off the table and the start of the jury-selection process.

Advertisement

They begin with focus group testing. All the black people in the room think Simpson is innocent, and all white people think he is guilty. This is another instance in which the events of the show seem almost too good to be fact. The focus group is then showed Marcia Clark in trial, and they do not pull punches.

"Well, she seems like a bitch," one woman says to uproarious laughter.

On the defense side, Shapiro is already being cut out of the loop; it becomes clear that the rift between Cochran and Shapiro is going to be a major storyline. There is a meeting in a later scene, underscored by a cartoonish, villainous tone, where Cochran and Bailey plot to take the lead on the case.

Faye, meanwhile, keeps digging Nicole into a deeper hole.

"They were the most undivorced divorced couple I think I've ever known," Resnick says through a cigarette.

While in an elevator, Shapiro says he will do a press conference and Cochran objects. The cowardly Shapiro waits until right before he can run out of the elevator before insisting he do the press conference. In response, Cochran posts up at a shoeshine stand and has a little press conference of his own. This establishes Shapiro as scared and bitter, and Cochran as savvy and media friendly.

The book about Nicole is then published. Both sides of the case seem upset by the graphic details of the book, but no true consequences seem to arise.

As the jury selection gets back underway, Shapiro vehemently states that he is not playing the race card. Cochran disagrees, saying that race is playing an unalienable part in this case.

"You are contradicting yourself Bob. You change narratives like the wind," Cochran says.

Robert Shapiro is so angry about losing control of his case he drops another F-bomb on cable. He excitedly decides to pitch a plea deal to the defense team, and wants to drop the charges to manslaughter, which appears to be the last straw for the rest of the team. Shapiro goes on vacation and, upon his return, it is revealed that he will not make opening statements — Cochran will.

By the end of the episode a jury is established, Shapiro is still angry, and Chris Darden joins the prosecution team.

"When did they get a black guy?" Simpson sheepishly asks.

This episode heightens the melodrama of the show even further, and it is beginning to distract from the plot. The camera is moving so much it made me dizzy. Every line is delivered as if it were the most important in the entire show. The score is unyielding and belongs in a soap opera. It seems as if the actors are advised to overact their respective parts.

The creators are putting so much effort into making the show this groundbreaking, artistic masterpiece that it just becomes overwhelming to watch. The drama of the story writes itself, and it would benefit from understated direction and acting that would allow the intricacies of the court case shine through.

On the positive side, I am still invested in the story. The plotting on both sides is fascinating and I am excited to see the twists and turns in strategy.

Moreover, this particular episode does a good job developing Simpson's character. He is not depicted as an especially smart man, but he is trying to keep up appearances. The show does not put him in a positive light, but it does humanize him. He is clearly out of his element and surrounded by moving parts he does not understand: the lawyers, the media, the jury, and the public. I am still excited to see where these parts end up.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement