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The third episode of FX’s The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story hit the mark concerning the case’s turn toward the racial component, former case reporter Jim Newton told The Hollywood Reporter.
The episode, which aired Tuesday, titled “The Dream Team,” illustrated how, considering the evidence, the Los Angeles county district attorney’s office felt its case against Simpson was a “slam dunk” before concerns quickly began to arise, said Newton, now a UCLA professor in the communication studies department and editor of the university’s Blueprint magazine.
“Over in the DA’s office, they initially didn’t think much of [O.J.’s] attorney team,” Newton said. But that all changed when Johnnie Cochran joined, he said. Cochran is played by Courtney B. Vance.
Newton, who covered the LAPD for the Los Angeles Times and was the lead reporter of the Simpson criminal case, said Cochran’s participation made prosecutors realize “what a tiger they had by the tail.”
Whether Simpson and Cochran had that jailhouse moment where O.J. broke down, Newton said he does not know. Cochran never spoke about their conversations to the media, he said.
Another aspect of the episode that was accurate if only briefly mentioned was the rise to fame of Kato Kaelin, who is played by Billy Magnussen.
“Kaelin at the time seemed to be the prototypical nobody-to-celebrity overnight and kind of an airhead, too,” Newton said. “So it was hard to understand why people were so interested in him. But that notion that he had gone from kind of an invisible freeloader at Simpson’s house to a marquee name is true.”
Still, there were some aspects of the episode which were off, Newton told THR.
First, as far as the case’s pivot toward the issue of race, Newton attributed that more to Cochran than Robert Shapiro, who is played by John Travolta.
“The case acquired a much more racial dimension once Cochran was fully on board,” Newton said. “So the presentation last night seemed to give Shapiro more credit — or blame — depending on what you think, for that transition.”
Also, DNA evidence was not as uncommon or as unheard of as the episode suggested when the “Dream Team” came together, Newton said.
“DNA evidence was fairly new in the ’90s, but it’s not like it was witchcraft,” he said. “This wasn’t a brand new science. It was not completely out of the blue.”
Overall, as with the pervious episodes, Newton said he was impressed: “It seems to me they are fairly on the mark of capturing the essence of what happened.”
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