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American Crime Story assembles a dream team

Illustration for article titled American Crime Story assembles a dream team
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After the fast-paced (yet slow) car chase of last week’s “The Run of His Life,” it’s only natural that “The Dream Team” calm down a bit as the trial gears up to begin. Still, it’s a good episode that works on putting together the team of lawyers that will defend O.J. Simpson, pulling each of these new attorneys into the narrative while also keeping tabs on Marcia Clark & Co., introducing us to some of the media’s coverage of the trial, and even checking in on everyone’s favorite ditzy blonde, Kato Kaelin.

After a cold open (that surely annoyed the vast majority of commenters) centered on the Kardashian crew going out to dinner and enjoying their newfound fame (but fame is fleeting! Don’t forget!), the episode mostly shifts to revolving around the lawyers. But even if you’re a little disgusted by the cold open, it does serve a point: Much of the O.J. Simpson trial—and this series—centers around fame. It’s not just about Simpson’s fame status but throughout the trial, multiple (attorneys, witnesses, friends, bit players) found themselves thrust into the spotlight as well. “The Dream Team” remarks on this entrance into fame through multiple characters. Marcia announces the charges against O.J. during a press conference (“I’d say everything is on the table,” she says, referring to the death penalty) before confidently strolling through the office and hearing “Congratulations—a star is born!” Kato pivots from silly joy when a group of attractive women flash him on the street to confusion when men basically condemn him to hell for his involvement. Johnnie, who is no stranger to public appearances, pops up on television as basically the “Senior O.J. Analysis” before he gets recruited to O.J’s defense team. Witness Jill Shively appeared on television for the fame, thus screwing over Marcia a bit. And, in a move that will bring a lot of people’s names to the foreground, a reporter for the New Yorker (Toobin) catches Bob Shapiro on a day when he is particularly ready-to-spill, quickly setting up the systemic racism defense that he and his fellow attorneys will use throughout the trial.

In “The Dream Team,” we get an insider look at the defense team’s various strategies. For one, they hire F. Lee Bailey (“up a creek of high-grade manure!”) to join the crew, Alan Dershowitz as an appellate advisor (already preparing for an appeal before the trial even starts) and Barry Scheck as an expert in DNA evidence (whose main job, it seems, will be to talk about DNA particulars in great detail in order to disrupt the prosecution and cast reasonable doubt—because that’s all they’re going for here: casting reasonable doubt.) The next—and most important—step is to get Johnnie Cochran on board. See, Bob already knows what his defense plan is. Rather than just argue that O.J. didn’t commit a double-murder, the team is going to argue the possibility that O.J. was set up by the police; that it’s a reflection of the systemic racism and tension that was (and is) at play between black men and police officers; that this is a case that is first, about race, and second, about murder; that Officer Mark Fuhrman’s—the officer who found the glove—pre-trial history of bigoted beliefs factored into O.J.’s arrest. But to argue that point, you don’t go with a Rob Kardashian or a Bob Shapiro. You go with Johnnie Cochran, successful black attorney with a well-documented history of involving himself in similar cases, and who can communicate these possibilities and this reasonable doubt to the jury in the most sincere, commanding, utterly believable way.

Johnnie has conflicting thoughts or whether or not he should take the case, should the opportunity arise. On the one hand, Johnnie prides himself on being a winning lawyer so to take a case that seems destined to lose isn’t a smart idea—and it certainly wouldn’t fit with his ego. But on the other hand, what if the case is winnable? As his wife puts it, the only thing worse than Cochran taking and losing the case is Cochran declining a case that someone else wins instead. Despite his hangups, when he gets a phone call from O.J., his reaction says it all. He clears the room. He stretches. He raises his hands up in the air (highly reminiscent of the “Don’t Shoot” gesture in #BlackLivesMatter protests). He takes a breath. He prepares himself. And he answers a call that turns out to be a prank. But this just means that when the actual call finally does come, Johnnie’s ready.

Outside of Johnnie Cochran (and Vance’s consistently amazing performance), there are still almost too many things to pack into one review. Not that this is a complaint—somehow, everything in “The Dream Team” felt necessary and like a perfectly-fitting piece, rather than something piled on (yep, even the Kardashian stuff—sorry, everyone!) to pad an episode. American Crime Story takes on too much without it coming across that way, finding a good balance and pacing. When it comes to O.J. not wanting Cochran as an attorney or not wanting Shapiro to go to the racism-defense-route, the scene is done succinctly: “You want to make this a black thing,” O.J. says before uttering his famous, “I’m not black. I’m O.J.” line.

American Crime Story knows that this is a packed story and knows when and how to introduce future plots. The discussion of the jury makeup—which will factor heavily into a future episode—(“optics”) were briefly introduced just enough for us to get a feel of what each side prefers. Fuhrman’s discretions were mentioned—he’s an admitted racist who has said some god-awful shit—and the LAPD conspiracy theories were nudged, but not fully explored. The released 911 tapes pop up toward the end, but don’t take up much time. Even Darden’s future-involvement in the case was introduced nicely: He’s told he’s going to head up charging A.C. Cowlings, and he has a quick discussion with Marcia about why black people think O.J. is innocent. It’s the emotional vs. the rational—a fitting theme for the series as a whole so far.


Stray observations

  • I would definitely be one of those girls hitting up Kato’s beeper.
  • For some reason (well, probably for obvious reasons, if you know my penchant for screaming about race all over the Internet), I remember the Time cover controversy—darkening O.J.’s skin—far more clearly than I remember the rest of the O.J. trial?
  • New drinking game rule: Aside from drinking for every “Juice” (and twice for self-referential “Juice”) also drink whenever Marcia Clark smokes a cigarette.
  • At the urging of a few of you, I watched the 30 for 30 episode and wow, it was really good—though those phone call recordings are legitimately chilling to listen to.
  • Overwrought line of the episode: “Pretend Uncle. Everything about him is pretend.”
  • Funniest David Schwimmer line delivery: “I thought it was a good idea!”