OJ's Bronco Chase · Culpable · The Alcàsser Murders
Plus: Covering Simpson's Twitter debut
|Best Evidence||Jun 17, 2019||2|
The Culpable podcast dropped today. Should you subscribe? From the production team behind To Live And Die In L.A. and Black Mountain Media comes Culpable. The press materials about the pod promise a mystery: “On February 26, 2014, Christian Andreacchio was found dead in the upstairs bathroom of his apartment from a single gunshot wound to the head. After a mere 45-minute police investigation, Christian’s case was ruled a suicide. However, there is substantial evidence that points to Christian’s death being a premeditated homicide, which the podcast hopes to shed light on and help bring justice to the Andreachhio family.” But based on the first two episodes, which I got to listen to ahead of today’s drop date, the mystery may actually be Culpable’s narrative structure.
I don’t want to sound like I’m criticizing the Andreacchio family, from whom host Dennis Cooper got extensive cooperation, and I can’t imagine what they’ve gone through with this loss, but, with all the compassion in my heart and as affecting as their memories of their son and brother are, the first episode and a half move much too slowly. The debut ep features various overproduced elements -- audio collaging; an intrusive cello-y score; turgid musings from Cooper on the decor at the Andreacchio home; “the scent of baked pie” (as opposed to...the scent of sauteed pie? and regardless of the pie’s cooking journey, nobody cares; cut it) -- that strain to locate us in the closeness of this family and the incomprehensible space Christian’s death created. But the podcast is called “Culpable,” so the idea is then presumably to hold someone besides Christian accountable for a death local law enforcement decided was at Christian’s own hand, so the narrative needs to get to the central circumstances of that situation much faster -- like, in five minutes, not the 55-plus it spends teasing out loved ones’ horrified reactions in a manner that borders on grief porn.
And by the time we do get to some substantive relevant information, like the condition of the apartment when Christian’s brother and roommate Josh returned to it, or the fact that Christian was sharing it with a newish girlfriend who seemed set on driving a wedge between him and his family, Culpable still hasn’t addressed a handful of basic questions listeners might have that would rule a suicide out...or in. Again, I don’t mean to speak indelicately, but for the audience to invest in this narratively as more than meets the eye, the story has to tell us exactly what did meet the eye. Where was the blood at the crime scene? Where was the gun? Was it a gun Christian had access to? Christian’s mother mentions a social-worker “background” in the second episode; what does that mean in terms of her assessing her son with depression or anxiety, or one of the illnesses that can manifest in young men around his age? Instead, we’re flies on the wall at an annual celebration of Christian’s life on his birthday, and the audio is touching, but it’s also damply indulgent and doesn’t belong at the beginning. And not for nothing, but the first episode says he died November 26; the second, that he died February 26. This is not the kind of slapped-up error a property positioning itself as the next prestige listen can leave in the final product. (If you listen to the “aired” versions and that error isn’t present, let me know and I’ll retract.)
But when Culpable at last begins to focus on the possible malign influence of Christian’s new girlfriend Whitley, it gets insightful comments from Christian’s mother and longtime friend Taylor; generally, the interviewees are listenable and genuine, though again, Culpable could press less tabloidily on their grief and take a stronger hand in editing down meandering stories. I am interested to hear more, because I think it is a compelling story, and based on other stories in this genre I’m seldom inclined to think Mississippi cops didn’t fuck up -- but from a structural standpoint, Culpable is doing enough unearned stalling that I’m not sure I want to hear more of it from this team. Good story; good idea/angle for a podcast; may get dragged down by podcasting-build clichés. -- SDB
It’s the 25th anniversary of the notorious slow-speed Bronco chase involving OJ Simpson. It’s hard to believe a quarter century has passed, and hard for those of us who were sentient adults then (well, “adults”) to remember a world before the OJ Simpson case. The trial and its particulars dominated cultural life completely for over a year, and at the time I didn’t think I ever wanted to revisit it, but some outstanding art and writing has come out of the case, so if you’re not sure where to start, here’s a list, in increasing order of consequence. Got additions or objections? Let us hear from you! -- SDB
Vincent Bugliosi’s Outrage: The Five Reasons Why OJ Simpson Got Away With Murder. This is not the best prose out there on the case -- see: the extraneous “Why” in the title -- but I’ll always take up for V. Bug’s book, for two reasons. First, it got me through the NYC blackout of 2003. Second, to that point, we as a culture had been, I think, rather careful about equivocating on Simpson’s guilt, decisions made by the prosecutors, and the...quality of the jury’s work, let’s say. Bugliosi was not having it. He was disgusted by Simpson, by Clark’s and Darden’s choices, and by what he considered the jurors’ violation of their oath, and his repeated, unvarnished “this mofo killed those people and he should have been convicted” declarations were rather refreshing. It might seem like a who-careser in 2019, and Bugliosi’s writing is, as always, sloggish at points -- but at the time it was really something. There’s inevitably one at the vacay used-books joint; grab it.
Dominick Dunne’s contemporaneous coverage for Vanity Fair. Dunne’s prose tended toward the sweaty, and the weaponized coyness of his name-dropping isn’t for everyone, but for all that we poked fun at his clubby dispatches from various courtrooms over the years, I’ll be damned if I don’t miss the guy. He did something nobody else did, or could...or, in the years since his death, really has, quite. Dunne’s monthly take on whichever horrifying case was seen to exemplify The American Condition at any given time was essential back then, a whiff of the corridors of power’s ozone, and even hunting up a link, I got sucked back in to his jazzy prose.
Jeffrey Toobin’s The Run Of His Life: The People vs. OJ Simpson. American Crime Story’s treatment was loosely based on Toobin’s book, a solid and straight-ahead accounting of the case from a good legal mind.
30 For 30’s “June 17, 1994” episode. Directed by Brett Morgen, it’s under an hour, and gives an excellent sense of what that day was like “on the ground” -- not to mention reminding us that a shit-ton of other significant goings-on were underway in the world of sport (the NBA finals, interrupted for chase coverage; Arnold Palmer’s last major). You can buy it on Amazon, but check your local listings today, as ESPN’s likely to rerun it on the Deuce or something.
American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson. Cast flawlessly (...okay, some quibble with Cuba Gooding Jr. as OJ; I admired the performance, not least because Gooding didn’t try a straight imitation), the artistic “liberties” ACS takes with the case add depth to a story we all thought we knew forwards and backwards. Come for John Travolta’s campy turn as Robert Shapiro; stay for the molten chemistry between Sterling K. Brown and Sarah Paulson as Christopher Darden and Marcia Clark.
OJ: Made In America. Absolutely essential viewing, even if you don’t care about this case; true crime generally; sports; America; orange juice...you get my point. This is a stunning, difficult, gorgeously assembled document that tells the story of OJ Simpson, and of race in America in the twentieth century, and of how sport uses corrosive etching to influence America, and of familial strife, and homophobia and misogyny, and corruption -- and in all of this, it doesn’t lose sight of the victims here, Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman. A full, fiery, fascinating answer to the question “How did this happen?”
If you’re thinking about the OJ trial and are wondering “what are those folks up to these days,” the Associated Press has you covered. Did you know that the late Robert Kardashian’s “fame has been eclipsed by that of ex-wife, Kris, and children”? That must have been fun to write with a straight face. Prominent in his absence from the AP list was Mark Fuhrman, who hasn’t made headlines since 2017, when Fox News tapped him to provide live coverage of Simpson’s parole hearing. Have any of you heard from him since? -- EB
And then there’s OJ, whose Saturday announcement that he had joined Twitter set of scores of arch headlines. “The Juice is Loose on Twitter,” wrote The Big Lead, while The Detroit News went with “The 'Juice' is loose-lipped.” CNet’s headline and dek were even less circumspect, reading “O.J. Simpson joins Twitter with the message 'Got a little getting even to do'“ and “Twitter just got a bit more interesting.”
Man, maybe I’m getting crabby in my old age, but I’m having a hard time getting on board with this attempt to rebrand Simpson as a rascally scamp out to lovably shake things up. He’s not Danny Ocean, he’s a man who -- despite his acquittal by a jury in 1995 -- many still believe nearly cut his ex-wife’s head off and slit the throat of a second person. If innocent, there’s a better way for Simpson to play this than “ha ha, I’m out for revenge!” and if guilty, every news org that covers his actions seems to be laughing with him.
In an appearance on “Fox & Friends,” Kim Goldman said that "I find it kind of disgraceful that on the observation of Ron and Nicole's death that's the day he chooses to go online and say he is going to get even,” and suggested that her podcast might have “triggered” his statement. Speaking with CNN, however, Simpson’s lawyer Malcolm LaVergne said that his client “will not be negative. Nor will he comment on the LA thing.” Guess Simpson’s planning that positive form of getting even, then. -- ELB
The Alcàsser Murders dropped on Netflix this weekend. The four-ep doc covers the 1992 kidnapping, rape, and murder of three Spanish teens. As many as seven suspects were implicated by DNA evidence, but only one man was ever jailed in the case. Decider has termed the series “compulsively watchable,” but we haven’t checked it out yet. If you have, drop us a line to let us know what you thought of it. -- EB
Tuesday on Best Evidence: Paying subscribers (it’s only $5/month or $55/year, folks!) will get Sarah’s review of The Truth About Dishonesty, the fallout from Death on the Bayou, and the conclusion of a notorious mariticide case.
What is this thing? This should help.