'The People v. O.J. Simpson' Finale Postmortem: EPs Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski on Balancing 'Drama With Absurdism'

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Warning: This post contains spoilers about “The Verdict” episode of The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.

The utterly magnificent one-off season of The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story concluded this week with “The Verdict,” an inevitably downbeat and elegiac ending for one of 2016’s most watercooler-worthy series. When FX’s American Crime Story anthology was first announced it had all the hallmarks of a Ryan Murphy spectacle, from the branding of the title to the audacious casting, and of course its high potential for tastelessness. But over ten weeks The People v. O.J. Simpson proved to be as thoughtful and relevant as it was weird and hilarious.

Related: Ken Tucker Reviews ‘The People v. O.J. Simpson’ Finale: He Did It, His Way

The surprising greatness of this series has been due in no small part to head writers and executive producers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, the seasoned screenwriters behind similarly ‘based on a true story’ classics like Ed Wood, The People vs. Larry Flynt, and the recent Big Eyes. In adapting Jeffrey Toobin’s juicy book The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson, the pair had the difficult task of making a truly insane real life event feel emotionally charged and compelling. This week they took time to chat with Yahoo TV about our favorite thing on TV in recent memory.

This season was a timely, thoughtful exploration of race and injustice, and it was also a timely, thoughtful exploration of perms and '90s references. How difficult was it to maintain the seriousness of one while embracing the camp of the other?

LK: I think it’s difficult but it’s what we do. If you look at the biopics that Scott and I have done, I think what makes them different than the straight-ahead Richard Attenborough-style biopic is that we manage to mix tones rather successfully. We feel that comedy and drama coexist with each other in real life and we try to capture that in our projects. And the O.J. Simpson trial was probably the most extreme version of that, in that at the center of this was the death of two innocent people, and we never wanted to make anyone feel that we were in any way making fun of that or doing anything that would be harmful to the Goldmans or the Browns.

But that being said, the reason to do a story about the O.J. Simpson trial was about all the elements around it. The issue of race, the issue of gender, the issue of media that this case exposed. And for us the intersection of drama with absurdism is what drew us to the project and what we love about it.

In your film work, you tend to find redemption for mocked or derided outsiders. Who in particular were you hoping to redeem in this case?

SA: We didn’t go into it with any agenda, but somewhere during the last three years of working on this we found ourselves liking the key lawyers a lot more than we did during the trial. And so, it wasn’t intentional but I think we ended up sort of offering redemption to Marcia, Chris, and Johnnie, who had all been turned into caricatures by the coverage of the trial. By looking at their personal problems and then how much those three cared about the trial personally, I think it makes us like them and care for them in a way we didn’t 20 years ago.

LK: My favorite thing that people say to us after an episode is, “Wow, 20 years ago I really couldn’t stand Marcia Clark, and now I really feel for her,” or “I thought Johnnie Cochran was just a flashy guy who did rhymes in the courtroom, but my gosh, he really stood for something.” So allowing people to have a new take on these people that they thought they knew so well has really been something that we take great pride in.

You guys managed to make me retroactively mad at Tina Fey for making fun of Marcia Clark in The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

SA: I think Tina Fey’s even mad at herself… She’s come out and said she’s changing her Emmy voter status [from writer to actor] so that she could vote for Sarah Paulson, because she really feels bad for Marcia Clark. [Laughs.]

I felt like the show was pretty even-handed about O.J.’s guilt or innocence for most of the season, and then in the finale I think the show took a subtle but firm stance. Were you trying to not reveal your hand too quickly or was answering the guilt-or-innocence question just not a priority?

SA: I mean, Toobin in his book, probably somewhere in the very first paragraph, comes out and says O.J. did it. As dramatists, we really didn’t want to show the murders, and we don’t really have any kind of way of saying emphatically he did it. I mean, our master plan was to show a lot of hard evidence on the first night in Episode 1, and for me that evidence is really convincing. And that sort of puts the audience in the same space that the police were in and that Marcia was in, which was, “My God, we’ve never seen so much hard evidence in a double homicide. Of course he did it.” But then through the next nine weeks we just sort of chipped away at this evidence — and what you believe — as the defense starts to raise questions.

But what is it you saw in Episode 10 that made you think we took a hard stance?

A lot of the unspoken moments. The Goldmans sitting silently in their car, and even O.J. looking in the mirror. A lot of these scenes don’t work unless you know that O.J. feels guilt and that everyone knows he did it. For example, I’m still laughing about that sad “congratulations” sheet cake, which was the shadiest thing all season.

[Laughter.]

Like, it made Johnnie Cochran’s victory party feel really hollow. Sure, these are stylistic decisions, but by the end it felt like this was the show letting me know that only one outcome makes sense.

LK: You’re correct. I think if the show had an overriding plot, it was that all the evidence points to O.J. Simpson and no one else. But we’re also showing why the jury came to the verdict they did, and I think there’s a lot of people who were angry about the verdict, and they may totally feel that O.J. did it, but at least now they understand how the jury came to that conclusion. We just want to give some understanding.

Related: Catch Up on ‘American Crime Story’ With Our Recaps

There are certain parts of Episode 10 that only have power if you think that O.J. got away with it. But our instinct was that O.J. didn’t get away with it. He was proven not guilty, but there was not really a victory. We really intended Episode 10 as being sort of a tragedy for everyone. O.J. thinks he can go back to his old life, he thinks he can go back to Hertz commercials and Naked Gun movies and what Toobin calls “Being O.J.,” which was O.J.’s career at that point, just being a likable celebrity. And what we tried to do in those last minutes of the show was to say he is not going back to this. He is now a pariah. The world looks at him a certain way now.

The whole case is very wild, with lots of twist and turns. Was there anything that would’ve been too hacky or implausible if this were fictitious?

SA: Everything. Yes.

LK: So much of the show was, “Did that really happen? Did that really happen?” And we could only get away with it because we could fall back on it being the truth. There’s so many bizarro left turns and B-stories — I mean the fact that the resounding final left turn of the trial, the Fuhrman tapes, came from research for an unsold screenplay from the mid-’80s! What?! If you were sitting down and writing this from scratch you wouldn’t put that in because it wouldn’t pass the smell test.

SA: Right.

LK: There’s that old adage, “What’s the difference between reality and fiction? Fiction has to make sense.” That’s one of the reasons why we gravitate toward these kinds of stories, these true-life stories that are just so bizarre that you can’t believe it. Ed Wood is that way, and Larry Flynt is that way, and certainly the O.J. Simpson trial is that way to the max.

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Are you involved in the next season?

SA: We are producing but we’re not writing. We’re actually adapting as a film Jeffrey Toobin’s next book, which is about the Patty Hearst kidnapping.

Amazing. So does this mean you can’t spill any details about Season 2?

SA: It’s in early days. Season 2 just started work about a week ago, so there’s really nothing to report.

I need to ask about Ryan Murphy. Among other things he’s a talented director and has incredible casting savvy. What creative sensibility did he bring to this project that complemented you guys the best?

LK: I think he’s similar to us and to Jeffrey Toobin in that he loves the delicious details. Some small little crazy thing that you almost can’t believe. I remember when we did our first couple scripts, one of the things he just totally loved, and even though the production manager was trying to get me to cut it, was the fact that the Bronco chase was the biggest selling day for takeout pizza.

Related: 'The People v. O.J. Simpson’: Follow the White Bronco Chase With Our Minute-By-Minute Map

That detail killed me. I loved that.

LK: And it’s such a completely absurd little detail and it’s one of those things that when you’re over budget on a script and people are saying, “No, you’ve got to cut this, why is there this stupid scene in a pizza restaurant, why do we need this?” But Ryan because of his power could just say, “Oh no. That’s staying in.”

SA: I would say as much as anybody, Ryan was like, “Did this really happen? Did this really happen?” And was just so giddy to find out it did, and when it was especially delicious he wanted to embrace it.

The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.