The O.J. Simpson jurors are lucky in at least one respect: Those folks can’t see A&E;’s largely unnecessary “Biography: O.J. Simpson” tonight (9 p.m.) or Fox’s abominable TV movie “The O.J. Simpson Story” on Tuesday (8 p.m.). If only the whole country could be sequestered.
But, of course, no one can escape “the trial of the century” or the media’s tendency to reduce it to entertainment. The trend is only going to worsen.
You’ve heard of 3-D, Cinerama, highdefinition TV. Brace yourself for more OJ-rama, the world of wall-to-wall Simpson.
In OJ-rama, there’s the real issue, the story of murder and justice unfolding in a Los Angeles courtroom. Then there’s the endless speculation, the trite psychoanalysis by TV experts, the oftregurgitated information that obscures the heart of the matter.
The Simpson case is a not-so-holy grail, endlessly studied with diminishing returns. The newsmagazines couldn’t get enough, but you can, can’t you?
The latest addition to the canon: A “Biography” documentary, “O.J. Simpson,” tonight on cable’s Arts & Entertainment Network. This straightforward hour sidesteps the tacky touches so dear to tabloid shows (“A Current Affair” this week tossed on the thunderous Carmina Burana to underscore a montage of the past seven months).
Even so, what we have here is an unenlightening rehash of Simpson’s life, with a heavy emphasis on Simpson’s football career. “We plugged in the Juice and went on from there,” says Lou Saban, former Buffalo Bills coach.
At this point, Simpson’s athletic prowess is beside the point, and because of the chronological storytelling, Nicole Brown wanders into the story late in the hour.
If you’ve read any of the dozens of magazine profiles available, you know this story inside and out already.
But inquiring minds might want to see the clip of ABC’s Peter Jennings scrimmaging against Simpson years ago during a news report. Or Simpson explaining his acting style (“You do a lot of b.s.-ing, which I’ve always done”). And in the ever-popular fateful comment department, a younger Simpson says, “I never wanted to be a victim of my celebrity.”
This ABC News Production draws from that network’s archives and talent pool, with Al Michaels and Dick Schaap commenting and Carole Simpson, no relation to O.J., narrating. Toward the end, the narrator notes, “O.J. Simpson is, in many ways, a man we never knew.”
This documentary doesn’t help fill in the blanks.
But the most egregious addition to OJ-rama has to be Fox’s TV movie, a revolting wallow in these well-publicized scenes from a marriage. Fox planned to air the movie months ago, but in an unusual nod to civic consciousness, delayed it until the jury was selected.
Better to have shelved this one indefinitely.
First tipoff to disaster: It was directed by Alan Smithee, a pseudonym used by directors who disown their movies. Jerrold Freedman’s decision to hide is perfectly understandable.
Pity Bobby Hosea (“China Beach”), who can’t hide as explosive O.J., and Jessica Tuck (“One Life to Live”) who cowers a lot as doomed Nicole. Bruce Weitz (“Hill Street Blues”) portrays Simpson attorney Robert Shapiro, whose main function in this hackneyed script is to jog Simpson’s memory and get those flashbacks rolling. Yep, keep those doggies rolling.
The movie, based on public record, won’t make anyone sympathize with Simpson. Rather, the filmmakers all but convict him. The scenes of Simpson smashing Nicole’s car windshield, terrorizing her and stalking her are so devastating you’re likely to feel for her, even though she, like everyone else, is shallowly depicted.
The story concludes with the infamous Bronco chase and Simpson’s arrest; the movie obviously has no definitive ending, so we’re treated to an excruciating montage of not-so-memorable scenes that have come before.
This is basically a stomach-churning reenactment, the sort you’ll see on the sleaziest tabloid shows. Forget insight or memorable dialogue. You didn’t seen any of that in the Amy Fisher or the Menendez brothers movies, and you’re not going to see any of it here.
If you don’t want to wade in this schlock, you’ll miss some mighty ridiculous scenes to discuss around the watercooler the next day. Take the meeting of O.J. and Nicole.
“Any problem with going out with a brother?”
Nicole, quipping: “Yeah, I’m in the Ku Klux Klan.”
And there’s the moment Shapiro seemingly justifies the months of hoopla that have gripped the nation and the media. He tells Simpson: “This isn’t just a murder case, O.J. - this is history!”
In the fateful comment department, Willie Mays advises young O.J., who’s running with a gang, that “going to jail would be a big waste of your time.”
And there’s a laughable moment when O.J. confides to Nicole, “I think I can win an Oscar.” Later, after O.J. decides to do “The Naked Gun,” Nicole warns, “Don’t expect to win an Oscar for it.”
During the Bronco chase, driver/Simpson pal A.C. Cowlings tells O.J., prostrate in the back of the truck, “You’re a standup guy.” And later, A.C. adds, “You’ve been losing momentum for a long time.”
But the words that stick with O.J. his whole movie life come from Mays, who lectures, “The only thing that endures is character.”
The people who made this movie have shown a remarkable lack of it.
This isn’t a TV movie. It’s a travesty.
But in the world of OJ-rama, anything goes. It’s up to you, viewer, to draw the line. The court scenes playing out on TV sets this week should be reminder enough that there’s more than entertainment at stake here. No, only a man’s life and the whole concept of justice.