Welcome to Last Night on TV, our daily column that looks back at what happened on television the night before. If we’re going to stay up all night and watch TV, we might as well talk about it the next morning.
Last night on TV, The People v. O.J. Simpson became our newest addiction, The Flash makes plans to vacation on Earth-2, iZombie eats some porny librarian brains and for the first time in its second season, Agent Carter excels.
The People v. O.J. Simpson
Neil Miller: Opening with news reports and images of the Rodney King beating sets the tone. It’s more than just the story this show wants to tell. That was the vibe of the era. And if the echoes of the tension between police and the black community feel all too familiar, that’s on purpose. But it’s also honest. Simpson’s trial was about DNA evidence, casting doubt upon the police investigation, and most of all, it was about race. In the trial, in the media, the Simpson trial was about more than the guilt or innocence of one man. And that’s what made it so deeply interesting at the time.
The most brilliant thing about The People v. O.J. Simpson, and the thing that makes it most addictive as a show, is that it revels in that drama while also being an earnest portrayal of the facts, to an extent that is surprising. Anthology master Ryan Murphy and his team take great care to never show us anything that wasn’t confirmed by multiple witnesses. They are methodically rebuilding the mystery of the case from the ground up, but also allowing the audience to be caught in the gravitational pull that surrounds the characters of this story.
It’s that gravitational pull – toward O.J., Johnnie Cochran, Robert Kardashian and Marcia Clark – that allows the show to pull off its greatest trick. We’re mesmerized by the details of the story. For those of us who remember being glued to the trial, there’s a lot of intrigue in trying to recall the details of the situation as the show is playing them out. The show does a wonderful job of recreation, especially visually. The production design, the costume work, the details of the period are all meticulously recreated.
But it’s all just a smart diversion. What sneaks up on is are these performances. By the time John Travolta comes vamping into view as Robert Shapiro, we’ve already experienced the vibe. From Sarah Paulson’s Marcia Clarke to David Schwimmer’s Robert Kardashian, it becomes clear immediately that everything. Every. Ounce. Of performance in this show is going to be cranked up to 11. To say that the vibes of these characters are authentic might be a stretch. Even Cuba Gooding Jr. isn’t doing an impression of Simpson. It’s all about capturing essence and amplifying. Every line of dialogue is oozing with over-dramatization. It creates an infectious whirlwind around every personality. And these are personalities that needed very little amplification in the first place.
For better or worse – and sometimes both – this is how this show is going to roll. Having seen a few episodes in advance, I can confirm that this rollercoaster is just getting started. What we should focus on now is how this first episode works extremely hard to setup agendas. We are introduced to the fire that burned within Marcia Clark for seeking justice for Nicole Brown Simpson. We’re introduced to Johnnie Cochran’s role in the relationship between the black community and the police and his history with Christopher Darden. We also see Robert Shapiro as a the celebrity strategist. Everyone around Simpson had an agenda, and this show won’t allow the audience to overlook these agendas.
Ryan Murphy has become synonymous with great starts. His oversight of this project, which is in the hands of producers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, can be counted as yet another hot start. A story this well-known isn’t an easy adaptation. What it has to do is show us some part of the situation that we’ve never seen before. In this case – a trial that was so publicized and studied – the part that we haven’t experienced is the personalities. Every Sarah Paulson scowl. Every dramatic John Travolta head-tilt. Every time Cuba Gooding Jr. explodes with anger. It’s all delicious.
By the end, the Bronco may be gone, but the circus has just returned.
Neil Miller: Just this morning The CW confirmed that The Flash will appear on Supergirl, which is news that sort of fits in the day after an episode like “Fast Lane.” It’s a classic setup episode. Introducing a villain like Tar Pit makes perfect sense. He’s an isolated, monster of the week style villain who can exist in the background of the episode while the larger narrative is served in the foreground. What “Fast Lane” accomplishes is all about setting things up for the future, just like the news that Barry Allen is going to take a trip to National City.
The larger narrative being served is that problem of Speed Force and Dr. Wells. And perhaps even Wally West, who to this point has not shown any Flash-like metahumanness. Could this notion that the Speed Force be extracted somehow be used to give Wally West some powers? The episode wasn’t shy about making Wally’s speed obsession known. It’s not just about being a street racer. He wanted to be an astronaut, a pilot, to test the limits of human velocity. It’s all setup for what comic book fans know should happen at some point: Wally West is going to get flashy.
For the rest of Team Flash, this episode was about pivoting. They’ve figured out how to close off the portals to Earth-2, but there’s still the problem of Zoom and Dr. Wells’ daughter. In his moment of empathy for Dr. Wells, Barry exemplifies what this show continues to do right almost every week. It isn’t afraid of the emotional (and sometimes physical) vulnerability of its hero. No other superhero show is delivering as many heartfelt father-son, mentor-mentee, hero-villain chats per capita. Even though they’ve been doing it for a season and a half, it remains refreshing to see The Flash continue to explore the emotional turbulence of being a superhero. This week, it manifested with empathy for a betrayer. And a promise that Team Flash will stand by one of its family members. Which means next week, we’re going to Earth-2!
Christopher Campbell: Ever since Lost — no, ever since The Godfather Part II — I’ve appreciated the intercutting of origin story flashbacks with the main plot line. I’m surprised Marvel hasn’t done this with a feature, but it does work better with TV episodes (and maybe movie sequels, as in the case of The Godfather Part II). This week, we got scenes from both Peggy and Whitney’s pasts, as a contrast between how one smart woman became a hero and the other a villain. Well, it wasn’t that direct in explanation of good and evil, but it was still an interesting dynamic even if Whitney’s back story was a little thin and hokey. Whereas Peggy’s showed us additional depth to the character – and a chance for Hayley Atwell to briefly give us a more emotional performance than usual – while also introducing us to her pre-Captain America love, Fred Wells.
“Smoke and Mirrors” was the first very good episode of the season, because it was the most focused. I guess we should just call it a “Jarvelous” episode, since that’s now going to be a thing we say a lot. And Jarvis himself (and James D’Arcy playing him) was particularly Jarvelous, especially when knocked out by the rhino tranquilizer. Speaking of those tranquilized, I could have sworn that was James Le Gros as Rufus, the very strong henchman of the Arena Club (it’s Chris Browning), but it doesn’t matter who played him now that he’s been absorbed by Whitney. As was a poor lab rat. She is eventually going to have such a sizable zero matter scar that she’ll begin wearing a golden mask, as Madame Masque, right? That acting award with the comedy and tragedy masks was foreshadowing of this, right?
I’m glad there weren’t a lot of unnecessary characters in the episode. No Jack Thompson, no wife of Jarvis, no fiancee of Sousa, no Howard. I’m kind of wishing Wilkes would just literally disappear already, too, but he and Peggy did have a touching (not physically, of course) moment that balanced well against her old flame in the flashbacks. As for other recurring support, Kurtwood Smith’s corrupt FBI guy had an essential moment with Peggy. However, the reference to the Hollywood 10 was slightly anachronistic (the show is set in the summer of 1947, and the blacklist began in November – and I don’t even know when the specific term for the 10 was coined). I’m a sucker for Illuminati-like conspiracies, so I liked Rufus’s rattling of events caused by the Arena Club, namely the McKinley assassination and the Stock Market crash. And that made for an expectation for the FBI to raid the SSR, and chronology errors aside, that clash between Peggy and Smith’s Vernon Masters was quite satisfying as a result. More of that would be Jarvelous.
Neil Miller: For a season and a half, everyone who watches the show has affectionately known as “Zombie Veronica Mars,” but until this week’s midseason return, showrunner Rob Thomas had not invited his old friend Kristen Bell to make a guest appearance. In “50 Shades of Grey Matter,” an episode that is a cornucopia of all the things that make iZombie delightful, Bell shows up briefly as the narrator of an erotic audiobook. This is Zombie Veronica Mars coming full circle.
Though as I mentioned, this episode brings season 2 back with all of its fury and charm, plus a little bit of sexy zombie time. Rose McIver continues to be as vibrant as her character is pale. Watching her go through a sexy librarian phase was a lot of fun.
“50 Shades” shows off some of the hallmarks of iZombie. First, every single recipe that Liv makes with brains looks delicious. Hannibal Lecter would be jealous. Also, every storyline creates interesting dramatic triangles. This episode featured the development of two new triangles. Liv and Drake and Major should be an interesting little (zombie and former zombie) love triangle. Liv and Peyton and Blaine should be interesting. This was Aly Michalka’s best episode to date. She’s never been a driver of either comedy or drama for the show, but she plays well with Rose McIver.
It’s nice to have iZombie back from midseason break and in such strong form. The show’s larger narrative is strong (especially when Eddie Jamison’s Mr. Boss returns) and these murders of the week continue to be as fun as Liv’s ever-changing personality. Is there a more dynamic comedic performance on television now than that of Rose McIver in iZombie? You’d be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of candidates for that argument.
What did you watch last night?