Monday, February 27, 2017

OJ: Made in America 30 for 30

The 89th Oscars were last weekend, and aside from its flub of a Best Picture announcement, I was also surprised at one of its winners that I will be covering here today. I always give ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series some love each year in my annual TV recap blogs. 2016 saw ESPN go with their most ambitious 30 for 30 project yet: a five part series covering the entire life of OJ Simpson. The bulk of the feature is dedicated to the controversial murders of Ron Goldman and OJ’s ex-wife Nicole Simpson. This documentary also covers the many racial injustices on the streets and in the courtrooms of Los Angeles from the prior decades and how they ultimately proved to be a major factor in the outcome of the Simpson/Goldman murder case in what many dubbed as “The Trial of the Century.” This documentary had the catchy, but effective name of OJ Simpson: Made in America (trailer).

Each part of this five part series is just over an hour and a half. So add it up and it is nearly eight hours all together! I watched the first two parts around Christmas, and blitzed through the final three a few days ago. Part one is all about OJ growing up and his football career in USC and for the Buffalo Bills. Once OJ exploded into success for the Bills, Made in America made sure to point out how OJ was one of the first athletes to transcend race with his use of the line, “I’m not black, I’m not white, I’m OJ.” Part one went on to cover all his successful endorsement deal he had with Hertz and other companies and how he pursued films in the NFL offseason. Part one definitely made it come across how much of a superstar OJ was in the 70s. Part one also gave some time to the civil rights movement and race riots of the 60s and 70s that was a prelude of things to come later in the series.

Part two is about life after football for Simpson. A fair amount of time is covered here showing his post-football endeavors such as carrying the Olympic Torch, Monday Night Football announcing and his middling acting career until finally getting a hit with the Naked Gun films. The feature shows around this time how he lost his two year old by drowning and friends interviewed stating how he was never the same afterwards and it was catalyst for his first divorce. Made in America then focuses on his marriage with Nicole Simpson and chronicles how it quickly devolved with many domestic disturbance 911calls played from Nicole and interviews officers on the scene from the incidents. A lot of part two has scenes covering more and more examples of racial injustices from this time, with the Rodney King beating of 1992 being the most prevalent example and how a lot of racial tension was building from the past few decades until this point.

Part three kicks off with police officers describing the crime scene with the bodies of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman. Adequate time is shown how evidence quickly leads to OJ being the prime suspect and the infamous Bronco chase that transpired about a week after the deaths. For those not up to speed on one of the world’s most notorious car chases, ESPN did another masterful 30 for 30 on that event and other noteworthy events in sports happening simultaneously. That 30 for 30 is called June 17th 1994 and is available on Netflix streaming which I highly recommend giving a viewing.

Part three then proceeds to cover the early stages of the near year-long trial by introducing the key players for the prosecution and defense legal teams, many (but not all) who are on hand here 22 years later to be interviewed for Made in America. Having their insight and reflections added a lot to the documentary. I understand why Cochran and Shapiro did not appear here, but to still get the thoughts here from Marcia Clark, Mark Furman and others all these years later added a lot to the film. Made in America stressed how difficult it was to find an impartial jury due to the nature of events leading up to the trial, OJ’s superstar nature and because of the aforementioned decades of racial tension in LA.

Part four is devoted to the trial and all the pivotal moments throughout it. I was in middle school when the trial was in process, and was shocked from how much I remembered of the key moments highlighted here such as the crime scene glove not fitting OJ’s hand, Furman’s controversial testimony and how the TV and tabloid media turned the trial into a circus among itself. A lot of time is dedicated here on how OJ’s defense team picked away at the prosecution’s case, with Furman being the obvious weak link due to his history. I will give Furman credit for defending himself as best as he possibly could in the new interviews he did for the film, and the documentary made sure to get across how he was the weak point of the prosecution’s case that played a big factor in the outcome.

The final part of the documentary opens with the interviewees recalling how surprised they were at how short the jury deliberations lasted. The not guilty verdict clip is shown in its entirety, along with many reaction shot clips from across America that indicated how much of a racial divide there still was (is) in the country. I still vividly recall getting dressed in the locker room of 8th grade gym class when our teacher came in with the news of the verdict. This moment is also why so much time was given in the earlier installments to the many past LA racial injustices because some of the jurors interviewed in this documentary stated their justification for the verdict was payback for those decades of past wrongdoings.

After winning the case, the feature shows life after the trial for OJ as he tried to keep living his life while enduring the countless wrath of America taunting him wherever he went. Only a short time is given to the civil case that OJ lost, but the film made sure to point out how its outcome forced OJ to move out of LA and into South Beach, Florida. The series made it clear at this point that OJ embellished his infamy by this point with a more flamboyant lifestyle to stay in the news with his controversial music videos and the “If I Did It” autobiography. Finally, until this documentary I was never perfectly clear on how the memorabilia theft charges OJ was involved in and how it lead to him being currently incarcerated. Even the interviewees here state it is a very convoluted case, but the film breaks it down and got across OJ’s involvement. People involved in that incident were interviewed to lay how it all went down and why all the charges got piled on OJ and it resulted in a judge sentencing him to the current 33 year prison sentence he is serving. People interviewed state that the sentencing ranged from fitting to ridiculous to “white justice” payback.

There is a little over an hour worth of archived ESPN extras. The primary extra is a 43 minute interview with Chris Meyers and OJ a few years after the trial with Meyers grilling OJ about the criminal and civil trials, the bronco chase and life after the trial. There are several Sports Center montages of the anchors breaking down the latest from the trial, and two segments from The Sports Reporters where their panel dissects the initial murder discovery and then react to the verdict of the trial. Of these extras the only one worth checking out is the Meyers interview as it was very fascinating watching OJ’s responses at the time and standing his ground while Meyers held nothing back.

It should not come as a shocker when I say this documentary is a must-see. Made in America is easily the stud in the entire 30 for 30 catalog, which is saying a lot because it is in very good company with many other standout pieces. Props to filmmaker Ezra Edelman for Made in America’s ‘Best Documentary’ Oscar win last weekend. I highly recommend setting the eight hours aside to watch Made in America. It is available for streaming on Hulu right now and the discs are available on Netflix. If neither of those options works for you, most retailers are selling the entire five-part series as a DVD/BluRay combo pack for around $20.

Past TV/Web Series Blogs

2013-14 TV Season Recap
2014-15 TV Season Recap
2015-16 TV Season Recap
Adventures of Briscoe County Jr: The Complete Series
Angry Videogame Nerd Vol 8
Angry Videogame Nerd Vol 7
Mortal Kombat: Legacy - Season 1
RedvsBlue - Seasons 1-13
Roseanne – Seasons 1-9
Seinfeld Final Season
Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle
Superheroes: Pioneers of Television

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