Last week’s episode of The People v. O.J. Simpson, “The Run of His Life”, centers around the infamous white Bronco chase, and rightfully so: it’s a landmark moment in TV history, aside from the emotional ramifications it bears for anyone with an interest in the O.J. case. But without an obvious setpiece for centering the characters’ disparate thoughts and feelings, “The Dream Team” delves even more into their personal lives, bringing history to life by emphasizing the humanity of the larger-than-life figures involved in the case. “We are Kardashians,” says Robert in the teaser, but “The Dream Team” skews wider, showing viewers how we’re also Marcia, Johnnie, Bob, and (gasp!) O.J.
About that teaser. Throughout the first three episodes, the writers appear to be struggling with the question of how funny it is to riff on the Kardashians’ eventual reality fame, and the opening of “The Dream Team” finds American Crime Story deciding, dubiously, that it’s hilarious. Robert is famous enough at this point to be recognized and given a table at a restaurant crowded with patrons out for Father’s Day brunch, but not so famous that that they don’t refer to him as “Richard Kordovian.” The kids, unaware that any of their siblings will one day be featured on E! or be the one person Kanye West follows on Twitter, can’t get enough of the attention. Viewers of American Crime Story, on the other hand, are a bit less amused by the situation, even with Robert telling his children that “Uncle Juice is a good man” with remarkable sincerity. Though misguided, the teaser does set up the focus on characters’ emotions which drives “The Dream Team”, slowing down from the brisk pacing of the opening episodes to show how the O.J. case affects those involved in it.
There’s Marcia at a press conference, for example, gleefully telling reporters that the death penalty is far from out of the question. For her, the case is a slam dunk, and Gil’s insinuation of the racial strife to come doesn’t faze her in the slightest. She has no clue just how big of a role race will play in the case, but she’s certain that nothing can get in the way of the prosecution. O.J. listens to her press conference from his cell, fearfully, grasping more and more the degree of danger he’s in.
He’s got help, though, namely from the group of lawyers giving the episode its title. Alan Dershowitz joins the defense, suggesting that they question the validity of the DNA evidence incriminating O.J., but Bob is more concerned with whether or not Alan will join him for lunch. We are celebrity attorneys, less interested in the fate of our clients than whether or not we our Ivy League colleagues will dine with us at fancy restaurants.
Of course, the high-profile attorney to ultimately be most associated with the O.J. case is still on the sidelines, but Johnnie’s wife wants to do what she can to change that. Once again, “The Dream Team” approaches history from a personal perspective, focusing on the emotional stakes driving everyone involved.
But more than relationships with spouses and children motivate the characters. Bob wants to win, and his investigator’s discovery of Detective Mark Fuhrman’s racism seems to be the perfect strategy. Bob explains his newfound angle to an unsuspecting New Yorker reporter, hoping to get the media talking about the role of race in the O.J. case as much as possible. O.J. is less enthusiastic about this development, saying, “I’m not black, I’m O.J.,” but he knows that he needs something to help him. Bob’s evasive wording in this scene, slyly telling O.J. that they’ll look for a “true downtown jury,” emphasizes the distance he really feels from the racial angle he suddenly advocates. Johnnie, naturally, gives a more convincing account of the role race can and will play in the case, winning over O.J. with his insistence that a black juror will yield a hung jury.
Chris, meanwhile, remains less convinced of the relation between racism and O.J.’s guilt, as sure as he is that people will continue to make the association. Marcia, on the other hand, continues to fail to understand what race could possibly have to do with a man she’s convinced murdered his wife, and a subtle but compelling plot strand of “The Dream Team” concerns Chris helping her to understand the case’s racial dynamics.
As obsessed as Marcia is by the O.J. case, she’s still got her children to worry about, and the episode’s final scene finds her at home. Stressed out by the question of O.J.’s guilt, the proving of which will clearly be more difficult than she once expected, she leaves her kids to go smoke a cigarette in the yard. We are Marcia, jonesing for nicotine and a conviction.
Max Bledstein (@mbled210) is a Montreal-based writer, musician and world-renowned curmudgeon. He writes on all things culture for a variety of fine North American publications. His highly anticipated debut novel will write itself one of these days, he assumes.