According to TV listings for 8
tonight, “Nova” is offering a seg about the hidden world of ants; on “Full House,””rapid foot growth alarms Michelle”; and on “Rescue 911,””boy is trapped in car stalled on train tracks.” All of these sound more interesting than “The O.J. Simpson Story,” and all of them probably offer as many insights into the murder trial that has become a national obsession.
However, the timing of this telefilm is good, and ratings should be, too, though the curious won’t learn anything new: This is completely based on public record, and is basically a recap of well-known events.
It’s just the facts, ma’am, just the facts, as the telefilm presents the events with all the emotionality of a court stenographer.
Even scenes like the couple’s arguments and O.J. meeting with his kids after Nicole’s death are presented flatly, as if any show of emotion might be construed as an indication of guilt or innocence.
The telefilm begins moments after the double murder and ends with Simpson giving himself up to the cops. Everything is here: The married O.J. first meets wisecracking waitress Nicole (telling a pal, “Man, this chick is something else!”); they marry; she calls 911 frequently; the bodies are found; and the cops chase the Bronco down the freeway.
Scripter Stephen Harrigan uses newscasters for exposition, and Simpson’s first interview with lawyer Robert Shapiro (a subdued Bruce Weitz) is used to cue flashbacks of everything, including O.J.’s troubled youth, his first marriage, etc.
Vidpic avoids sensational allegations like drug use and other possible suspects. Kato Kaelin is mentioned once, Faye Resnick not at all; Ron Goldman is an apparent afterthought, getting about four minutes of screen time.
Jerrold Freedman was the director on record during lensing, but it’s now credited to Alan Smithee. It’s impossible to evaluate the helmer’s work, or that of the network honchos, producers or writer; if anyone is the auteur here, it’s the lawyers, who’ve made sure there’s nothing libelous. Or too compelling, either.
Bobby Hosea and Jessica Tuck are acceptable look-alikes and turn in OK performances, but their work, like almost everyone else’s, is hampered by the cautious approach. Casting director Alice Cassidy has rounded up lots of good actors who have nothing to do. Biggest impression is made by Bumper Robinson, who scores as the young O.J.
Cinematographer Jeffrey Jur, costume designer Bernie White and production designer Linda Pearl do notable work.
Someday, someone may write a strong script about the tale, which touches on the issues of spouse abuse, racial relations in America, our Byzantine legal system, the nature of fame and celebrity and the Greek-tragedy plot of a fall from great heights. However, none of these is explored, evidently for legal reasons.
“Simpson” was originally slated for September airing, but Fox delayed it until the jury was sequestered and couldn’t watch it. They’re not missing anything.