Given how iconic a moment it was not just for the O.J. Simpson trial but for the country as a whole, it’s all too fitting that “American Crime Story” devoted an entire episode to Simpson’s flight from justice. Covering every angle — from a gun-toting O.J. screaming at driver Al Cowlings, to the control room broadcasting the NBA playoffs, to the captivated audiences watching as that white Bronco weaved its way through the deserted freeways of Los Angeles — it’s an hour of television devoted to one of the most incredible television events of all time.
Star Witness (Best Actor)
It’s not a huge role, but Malcolm-Jamal Warner offers up the believable panic you’d expect from a man in Cowling’s position, selling the hell out of his big line: “What kind of stupid-ass question is that? Everything is terrible!” Cuba Gooding Jr. might be chewing the scenery a bit in the back seat, but in the driver’s seat Warner proved more than capable of selling the situation.
Okay. Let’s talk Kardashians.
With fictionalized accounts of real events, there are two components to consider: One is the ethical obligation to represent what happened at least somewhat fairly. The other is the dramaturgical obligation to represent what happened in a way that feels both engaging to audiences as well as actually believable. So far, “American Crime Story” is doing a solid job of meeting both of these requirements, but this week, the brief appearance of Robert Kardashian’s four children was the exception. Watching the soon-to-be-famous moppets chanting their last name at the television was easily the least authentic moment of the episode.
In truth, there really isn’t a ton of “Kimmie” and her siblings in this show, but you don’t need to add all that much garlic before it overwhelms the soup.
I Didn’t Know That…
An incredible detail, that totally checks out, is that because no one wanted to leave their televisions that night, pizza deliveries hit record levels. It’s maybe a 30-second scene in a 41-minute episode, but one that makes an impact as to how captivated America was by the chase.
The Most ’90s Moment
Good Lord, remember car phones? Those really used to be a real thing. In retrospect, car phones feel really ridiculous. Though they probably had better battery lives than an iPhone.
All the archival footage, as well, served as an intriguing reminder of just what our favorite news anchors looked like 20 years ago, and just how far back some careers have stretched. (1994-era Bob Costas can get it.)
“On the Air, On the Radio…”
Props to Ryan Murphy for giving us a dynamic, action-packed introduction to the chaos that was the early moments of the chase — albeit one set to a somewhat over-the-top music choice. However, the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” is period-accurate, as it was released in January 1994 and the chase took place in June of that very year. That being said, while it’s contemporary to the time, it’s also not used diegetically (we never actually see what is playing the song). So, who knows.
Meanwhile, of course Robert Shapiro rocks out in his car to the smooth jazz tones of Al Jarreau’s “We’re In This Love Together.” Nothing has made more sense, ever.
Remember, This Really Happened
We get a glimpse of Nicole Brown Simpson’s grave, covered with tributes, which serves as another great example of the show reminding us that — no matter what else — this story began because two people died.
But really, with this episode, it’s all about how anyone currently over the age of 30 (thus at least eight years old in 1994) likely has a strong memory of watching the chase. This is a part of the narrative those of a certain age all participated in, so share your memories of it, perhaps, in the comments?
“If the Glove Don’t Fit…” (Best Line)
“Well, he’s got the cops chasing him. He’s black now.”
– Christopher Darden and an Oakland neighbor
If you’re looking to sum up the show’s angle on racial politics, these two lines do a pretty tidy job of it.
The Key Takeaway
From the very beginning, the conversations that this case inspired were focused on race. The fact that a black man was on the run from the law — even a rich and famous one — touched a nerve that is all too familiar today. So much of what gets said in 1994 about African American attitudes toward the police could be replicated word-for-word now — and with tragically good reason.
Many of the key players didn’t get a lot to do this week, especially Marcia Clark (instead, we got dueling press conferences), but the episode was the furthest thing from static; especially thanks to moments like Marcia’s quiet rage over O.J. Simpson’s flight. It’s here we see her fully commit to taking this guy down, no matter what it might cost her: “I want him to finish this day alive. I want him to pay for what he’s done.” And it’s also here that we see the beginnings of the impact this case would have on both black and white America — and how very different each impact truly was.