Wednesday, February 03, 2016

THE PEOPLE vs. O.J. SIMPSON: My verdict

What? What do you mean I have to wait until next week to see the second episode? What the hell? You mean I can’t just watch the whole series in one night?

How am I supposed to binge on one episode?

I guess I really liked the opening installment of THE PEOPLE VS. O.J. SIMPSON because I will be back next Tuesday to watch episode two.

The series benefits from terrific writers in Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski. They wrote ED WOOD, the Larry Flynt movie, BIG EYES, and the underrated Andy Kaufman story, MAN ON THE MOON (among others). They’re the A-list biopic guys, and trust me, those are not easy to do. Most biopics end up looking like cheesy Lifetime movies. For God sakes, Ozzie & Harriet got a TV biopic (and I’m sure many of you are saying, “Who are Ozzie & Harriet?”)

But Scott & Larry do exhaustive research and have a knack for presenting factual material in a compelling riveting way. And they find the madness and absurdities of their larger-than-life subjects which give their scripts a slightly surreal quality. Producer-director Ryan Murphy hired the perfect guys. There’s enough bizarre shit in this case to fill two mini-series and a Coen Brothers’ movie.

THE PEOPLE VS. O.J. SIMPSON has a cast of thousands (they weren’t kidding when they said the “people”). And casting is always key. I’ve only seen the premier (I still can’t get over not being able to see the whole thing at once – what are we, in the Stone Age?), but there appear to be some great performances.

Sterling K. Brown as Chris Darden is dead on. Courtney Vance kills as Johnnie Cochran, and it would be so easy to make that character a cartoon. I totally buy David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian. And so far, Sarah Paulson, as Marcia Clark, steals the show. She’s the Meryl Streep of TV as far as I’m concerned.

On the other hand, Cuba Gooding Jr. as O.J. is a stretch for me. And I’ve read in pre-show hoopla that Ryan Murphy thought it was a major coup to get John Travolta to play Robert Shapiro but he is absolutely ridiculous. I haven’t seen such bad makeup since John Wayne played Genghis Khan in THE CONQUEROR. Every minute that Travolta is on the screen takes me out of the story. I keep wondering, is he wearing a rubber mask? Does the makeup person think he’s Arnold Schwarzenegger? Or Rocky Balboa?  Or someone from Fraggle Rock?

I love Travolta in the right thing (like PULP FICTION or GET SHORTY) but as Robert Shapiro? Puhhleeze. There are no Jews in this town who could play him? Yes, I know Travolta is a “name,” but get real – he was a name. I guarantee that any Millennial watching this mini-series who is not familiar with the OJ case will also have no clue who John Travolta is.

Oh well. At least Ryan Murphy didn’t get Lady Gaga to play Marcia Clark.

Those quibbles aside, THE PEOPLE VS. O.J. SIMPSON (Tuesday nights at 10 on FX) is off to a very promising start. When you can be completely engrossed in a ten-hour story in which you already know the ending, THAT’S filmmaking. Congratulations to all concerned.

Now if Robert Shapiro would just represent Steve Avery…

32 comments:

Diogo Casquilho said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Millennials probably know Travolta from GREASE, and as the Mom in HAIRSPRAY.:)

Richard said...

I am IN. I can't wait for next week. If that was Netflix I would have probably watched two more episodes last night and died at work this morning.

The only thing -- granted it's one episode -- is that it seems that they are almost leaning towards OJ being innocent? Or at the very least a sympathetic character? Way too early, but that would just ruin it for me if they are going that way.

Also, how great would it have been if in the scene where Shapiro asks him if he did it -- they would have had him say yes?? I would have fallen off my couch.

Great first episode though.

Matt said...

I ended up watching way too much of the original trial. I was in the army in Kansas and I had a friend who was engrossed in it. So almost every day he would get me to go to the O-Club for lunch because they showed the trial.

However, it was fascinating. I am glad he is in jail for something.

Bob said...

Why didn't they get O.J. to play O.J. ? I guess then it would have been a different movie. Though in a perfect world, once you cast O.J. as himself, the possibilities are fascinating (Leslie Nielsen and his fart cushion as Kato?).

Rod said...

I'm looking forward to watching this series. I am waiting to get all 10 on the DVR so can "binge."

Ken--from up here in Seattle--

http://www.lookoutlanding.com/2016/2/2/10899400/dave-sims-recovering-from-prostate-cancer-surgery

Wishing your partner good luck and good health!

Angry Gamer said...

I had to comment on this one -

"And I’ve read in pre-show hoopla that Ryan Murphy thought it was a major coup to get John Travolta to play Robert Shapiro but he is absolutely ridiculous. I haven’t seen such bad makeup since John Wayne played Genghis Khan in THE CONQUEROR."

Perfect Joke. I laughed hard and it was pitch perfect. Thanks


Angry Gamer

Anonymous said...

Hey Ken,

I have it on DVR- can't wait to watch it. This review makes me want to watch it even more!

I must admit- I can't imagine this story in today's world with Twitter & Facebook, etc. It would be so over the top.
--LL

normadesmond said...

as for travolta, i'm presuming that shapiro was
a weird person, hence john's weird performance.

Cap'n Bob said...

Thanks for the warning. I studiously avoid anything with Travolta in it, including L.A. bath houses.

Anyway, I watched the original trial and I don't need a rehash.

Anonymous said...

Good show so far although I can't believe it is 20 years. I remember watching Larry King interviewing (I think) Jay Leno on his talk show and they broke in to discuss the murder. I remember thinking "he did it" because I had known about his abusing her in the past. Still think he did it. She was "over" killed, not random, not a robbery. Someone hated her and wanted her dead, and poor Ron was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Read the book by Jeff Toobin. Also think Kevin Spacey would have been a better Shapiro. Janice B.

Igor said...

"Bob Elliott, master satirist of radio fame, dies at 92" - Washington Post

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/pop-culture-satirist-bob-elliott-dies-at-92/2016/02/03/9ec0f682-ca98-11e5-ae11-57b6aeab993f_story.html

RR said...

Vanity Fair did an article a few years back showing how so many of the players in today's reality TV came out of the O.J. trial. It is still worth a read:

How O.J. Simpson Killed Popular Culture
http://www.vanityfair.com/style/society/2014/06/oj-simpson-trial-reality-tv-pop-culture

As for the show, I had enough of this overhyped and very sad tragedy the first time around. I don't want to relive it.

MikeN said...

When I saw the pictures in this post, my first reaction was Arnold's in this movie?

So now Hollywood has cast Anthony Hopkins as Richard Nixon and Hannibal Lecter, John Travolta as Bill Clinton, Emma Thompson as Hillary, and now Cuba Gooding Jr as both OJ and Ben Carson.

Peter said...

I googled Marcia Clark to see what she's up to these days. I think it's something to do with law but I was too distracted by how completely and utterly different she looks. It seems even lawyers in Hollywood like a bit of plastic surgery.

Fred Nerk said...

So what if millennials don't know who Travolta is, which is a nonsense generalization, he's a level of fame above anyone else in the cast and they think he will attract publicity, which he will.

MikeK.Pa. said...

I can't decide if Travolta looks more like a mix between Ming the Merciless (from BUCK ROGERS) and Khan (from WRATH OF KHAN) or Martin Landau playing Bela Lugosi in ED WOOD.

Two Friday questions: Would you write for an awards show, given your criticism of them?
Are you planning any trips to Pa. for A or B (and if so, when)?

D. McEwan said...

I wish I had to ask who Ozzie and Harriet were. Unfortunately, I don't.

Johnny Walker said...

Oh man, you still think Avery is innocent? I hope this series actually shows OJ as being guilty...

DBA said...

Ken, that's an insult to fraggles.

RCP said...

"And so far, Sarah Paulson, as Marcia Clark, steals the show. She’s the Meryl Streep of TV as far as I’m concerned."

She's been brilliant in American Horror Story, and I'll watch anything she's in.

Did Lady Gaga run over your dog or something?

CarolMR said...

Why would they hire Cuba Gooding to play OJ? Gooding is much shorter and smaller. Is the series trying to imply that someone of "OJ's" stature could not have possibly knifed two people to death?

Ken Levine said...

MIke in PA,

I am planning to see the production of A OR B? at the Hatboro Village Theatre. Tentatively the middle weekend of the run. I'm very excited to go there, see it, and do a talk-back.

Barry Traylor said...

If they change the end where O.J. goes to prison for murder, then I might watch it. If not that, then thanks but no thanks.

MikeN said...

Friday Question:
What do you think of USA's move to put promos for Suits(maybe other shows too) that show what's going to happen later in the same episode?

Jeff Maxwell said...

A couple of years after the O.J. trial, I shot an interview with Robert Shapiro in a boxing gym in Los Angeles. Pleasant enough fellow who trains, or used to, like a boxer. Travolta does look weird, but from my experience, I think Travolta actually captures some of the unique, in-person Shapiro essence.

Like so may, I was mesmerized by the complexity and horror of the trial, and I'm now hooked on the show. Can't take my eyebrows off Sarah Paulson.

Unknown said...

It's scary people are getting excited over this. 2 people where slaughtered, people tend to forget that. I think living through it once was enough.
And the reason why Cuba Gooding is playing OJ, Joseph Fiennes wasn't available.

Alan C said...

Unknown: I guess it's no more morbid than a lot of things on TV.

I didn't buy Gooding as OJ--not that actors have to look like the people they play--but I did find him convincing as someone who might be guilty and who might snap at any moment. I thought I read/heard that the series leaves OJ's guilt or innocence up in the air. Kind of like the actual trial.

Cap'n Bob said...

Peter: Marcia Clark is a mystery fiction writer these days. Shes gotten good reviews and I'm sure you can find her books on Amazon.

MikeK.Pa. said...

Great. See you April 10.

Anonymous said...

We people who are not familiar with the OJ trial do to know John Travolta. Give us some credit. Even if we never watched, we all know about Happy Days.

Doug said...

Yeah ... Sarah Paulson is scary good as Marcia Clark.And,Travolta and Gooding are the weak links.Episode 1 is significantly better than I anticipated.I was too busy back in the day to follow the original trial.

Waiting for Season 4 of Bates Motel ...