The Craziest Moments in 'Is O.J. Innocent?'
The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story and O.J.: Made in America appeared on many critics’ best of 2016 lists, and now Investigation Discovery is taking on the so-called Trial of the Century with a six-part, three-night docuseries called Is O.J. Innocent? The Missing Evidence. This new one isn't too interested in exploring the ways racism and fame shaped the 1995 murder trial. It just wants to push a wild fringe theory about who did it.
As you might imagine, Is O.J. Innocent? is not a dogged true crime series. It’s more of a flashy reality show, with the hammy stars and ridiculous stakes to match. Here are the most absurd moments from the series.
The very serious slo-mo
The action is headed up by William C. Dear, a private investigator who published a book in 2012 called O.J. Is Innocent and I Can Prove It (and has a website that makes gun sounds). Martin Sheen narrates the proceedings, because Martin Sheen narrates everything, which you can read all about in my book Martin Sheen Narrates Everything and I Can Prove It.
Dear has called in two men to assist him: Derrick Levasseur, a police sergeant from Rhode Island "known for his street smarts" (and who also happens to be a 2014 Big Brother winner), and Kris Mohandie, a forensic psychologist who worked on the LAPD negotiation team that handled O.J.'s Bronco chase. After Mohandie thoughtfully whips off his glasses and Dear poses with a microscope, the three of them assemble dramatically and walk down a Los Angeles sidewalk in slow motion. How else are you going to know they're serious about this?
These two awkward interviews
Levasseur and Mohandie meet at a diner, where they decide to conduct some interviews for the investigation, despite not haven't been briefed ahead of time. Levasseur sits down with Tanya Brown, sister of Nicole Brown Simpson, and soon the conversation turns to the murder. It becomes clear that Levasseur is still working on his reality-show, uh, "acting" skills; a dramatic exhale he makes at one point would make every single Kardashian and Real Housewife roll her eyes.
In the second episode, Levasseur interviews Andrea Scott, a friend of Ron Goldman, who was driving her car the night he was killed. On Levasseur's second go, he appears to be struggling to remember lines and he makes hokey interjections to the friend of a murder victim, such as "And that... must be something you don't forget."
The highly dramatic theory reveal
Is O.J. Innocent? makes it to the 19-minute mark before it finally reveals its theory: O.J.'s son did it. To properly set up this big reveal, Dear summons his sidekicks to a conference room full of blown-up photos and boxes of unseen evidence. He believes the culprit is Simpson's son Jason, who was 24 at the time of the murders, and claims that Jason had the opportunity, the means, and the motive.
But this wouldn't be a trashy true-crime show if there weren't stakes involved. So Dear vows, "If I spent the last 23 years of my time and my money seeking justice and I'm wrong, I'll apologize to Jason on camera. I'll apologize in person." Cool? Cool.
When they stare at the house built where O.J.'s house used to be
The team begins at a major disadvantage, since the crime scene was cleaned up 22 years ago. But Levasseur and Mohandie come up with a creative solution: they drive to Nicole’s house and just kinda imagine things. Did they even talk to the current owner about this? Unclear!
They do the same thing at site of O.J.'s home, which was demolished in 1998. But Mohandie was there during the LAPD confrontation with O.J., so he can at least talk about the "crazy night" while the screen flashes photos of the old estate. Levasseur agrees that it's crazy just being there, in their car, looking at a different house.
The very creepy corpse dummies
That weird little exercise poses an important question: how are Levasseur and Mohandie supposed to do actual detective work when they don’t have access to any of the original evidence and the bodies have long been buried? The answer is, apparently, props. When they meet with Craig Harvey, the former chief Los Angeles County coroner investigator, he gives a demonstration about the knife wounds using a creepy dummy. (Why does it have a painted face?!) Another lady dummy sits in the corner the entire time, watching.
The fake infamous Bronco
Speaking of props, the second episode concludes with former LAPD detective Tom Lange explaining the blood evidence discovered in what Sheen calls "perhaps the world's most infamous SUV." The music gets dramatic as Lange walks with Levasseur and Mohandie into a garage where a white Bronco sits. "Wow, here it is," says Levasseur. "Bring back any memories, Tom?" It's only then that Sheen reveals it's (unsurprisingly) a different Bronco with tape showing where the blood on the real Bronco was discovered. But ace work on selling it, team.
The crackpot hat theory
Dear's most crucial piece of evidence is a knife he found in a storage locker that belonged to Jason Simpson. But he's much more obsessed with the fact that Jason once owned a black hat.
Fact: A black-knit hat was recovered at the crime scene in 1994. Investigators found hairs in it, but could only determine that the hairs were consistent with an African-American male. Dear is positive that the hairs belong to Jason rather than O.J. because he has photos of Jason wearing a black knit hat -- and, as he theatrically intones, "O.J. Simpson was never seen wearing a knit wool cap!"
The hat theory comes up a lot over the first two episodes and every time it does, Dear sounds more and more like he has a Homeland pegboard full of string, pins, and 37 photos of Jason Simpson in hats.
The proof is in the diary doodles
The third episode opens with a discussion of Jason’s diaries, which Dear allegedly uncovered in his investigation. They supposedly span the three years prior to the murders, and the pages suggest suicidal tendencies along with some serious mental anguish. But the trio is much more concerned with a page of scribbles.
When Dear pulls up a slide featuring the scribbles, everyone loses their minds. “Oh wow,” Levasseur gasps at the incomprehensible scrawl. The fact that Jason once scribbled over a page of his diary is apparently all the proof they need that he’s a homicidal maniac. But just to be safe, Levasseur and Mohandie bring it to a handwriting expert. She comments that she usually sees these kind of scribbles from teenage diaries. Levasseur and Mohandie then leap to the conclusions that well-adjusted adults don’t scribble, and doodles = death.
A secret source is called in, Watergate-style
In order to piece together Jason’s past, the team decides they need to talk to some people who knew him as a young man. So they call in a former classmate from the Army and Navy Academy in Carlsbad, California. Since this classmate does not want his identity revealed, Levasseur meets him in a shadowy garage stairwell like he’s Bob goddamn Woodward.
This classmate isn’t exactly dropping scoops like Deep Throat, either. Most of this mystery man’s allegations concern an angry phone call he once kinda heard Jason make, possibly to Nicole, and his personal belief that Jason could’ve been involved in the murders. But he still gets enough low lighting to suggest he’s unraveling a conspiracy The Man doesn’t want you to know. The clandestine setup gets even more ridiculous once we see where Mohandie and Levasseur interview a second anonymous source: in a brightly-lit Los Angeles restaurant.
Another PI checks up on present-day Jason
Levasseur and Mohandie are pretty sure they have a grip on Jason after watching his deposition from the 1996 civil suit and reading four pages from his diary. But just to make sure they’re not making wild assumptions about a person they’ve never met, they turn to yet another private investigator. It seems Dear hired a fellow PI to tail Jason in the present day. She reports that he has a wife and a car and a job at a restaurant. But she also thinks he could work on being warmer to strangers who are stalking him.
The team mostly can’t believe Jason has a beard and looks different than he did in that deposition video. It’s almost like people change after 20 years!
O.J.’s crazy book is used as evidence
If you were alive and on the internet in 2006, you might recall the controversy surrounding Simpson’s "memoir," If I Did It. It was a ghostwritten book that offered a fictionalized version of what happened the night of the murders, and it really pissed people off. Critics called it a crass way for O.J. to make a buck -- and the outcry was so furious that the publication was canceled. The book only came out the following year, after the Goldman family got involved.
If I Did It has never been seen as an especially legitimate account, but you wouldn’t know it if you talked to Mohandie. He bursts into the conference room at the beginning of Episode 5 with scoops from the book, which the team quickly treats as a legal document. Since the story features a (completely made-up) dude named Charlie who instigates Simpson, Mohandie and his colleagues soon adopt "the Charlie theory." Under this theory, Jason is Charlie, Simpson is Simpson, and nothing matters anymore.
Kato Kaelin makes a cameo
A ridiculous show about O.J. wouldn’t be complete without Kato Kaelin, the key witness turned media personality who was staying at Simpson’s guest house the night of the murders. Levasseur meets with Kaelin to discuss O.J. and Nicole’s troubled relationship, but also this dumb new “Charlie theory.” Kaelin seems both taken aback and curious about this line of questioning. He doesn’t really buy it, but he also can’t believe Jason wasn’t interrogated. Kaelin comes up again when Levasseur calls him to confirm how many cars were in the driveway that night. He is very friendly.
One last "eyewitness" stayed silent for 22 years
Toward the end of Episode 5, Levasseur and Mohandie are abruptly called to the garage for an emergency meeting. Dear has dug up an eyewitness who claims to have seen everything that night, including Jason in the white Bronco with Simpson. His name is Michael Martin, and he has been silent for 22 years for absolutely no good reason.
Levasseur and Mohandie treat this guy with the appropriate amount of skepticism for about a minute. But then he agrees to take a polygraph test. He passes, and thus must be taken seriously. The team makes no effort to corroborate Martin’s story.
So here’s the thing about polygraph tests: they are not, and never have been, reliable measures of truth. If you’re a really good liar, you might pass. And if you’re a really nervous truth-teller, you might fail. No responsible investigator would ever treat a polygraph as the final word. Thankfully, Lange, a.k.a. the man who has had it, returns to shoot death glares and inform the team of this fact.
Dear's collaborators turn on him
You might remember that Dear promised to pack up his bags and apologize on camera if he was wrong about this whole Jason theory. Well, if you can believe it, he was somewhat disingenuous about that!
When Levasseur and Mohandie gather to reveal their final takes, it becomes apparent that they were humoring Dear a whole lot during this investigation. Mohandie emphatically believes Jason was not involved, and maintains that Simpson is guilty. Levasseur, in a plot twist, does some legit police work to prove Jason’s time card checks out. He then concludes with the same opinion.
Dear takes this about as well as a kid who’s been cut off from the cookie jar. He repeatedly interrupts both his investigators to yell at them, and even exclaims “That’s bullshit!” after Mohandie dismisses Jason’s diaries. He obviously disagrees, and says so repeatedly.
Levasseur walks back this rare moment of sanity to say he does think there was maybe a second person there. Mohandie makes this concession, too. This is all Dear needs to calm down from his tantrum and promise viewers a grand jury investigation.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that grand jury investigation will never happen. But if it does, let’s hope Lange is at least there to grumble at everyone involved. The creepy dummies and Michael Martin can stay home.
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