'Is O.J. Innocent?' Is Your New True-Crime TV Obsession

Martin Sheen narrates a docuseries aiming to prove O.J. Simpson's innocence.
18 January 2017, 5:00am
Investigation Discovery

To be clear: No, we don't need another docuseries that takes apart the minutia of the Nicole Brown/Ron Goldman murders. But that won't stop anyone from making one, because true crime will always be relevant—doubly so when it's about a case that infiltrated our culture and our daily lives.

The latest, Is O.J. Innocent? The Missing Evidence, comes from Investigation Discovery, the best true crime network that you haven't been watching. It isn't exactly great, but it's compulsively watchable. The six-part series (four episodes have aired since Sunday; the final two will premiere tonight) is narrated by Martin Sheen, just one of a long list of things about the series that doesn't quite make sense. But what doesn't make sense also doesn't really matter: The Missing Evidence knows that we're here for nonsensical theories to obsess over and pick apart. We're here for television to tell us why we were wrong.

The center of the docuseries is private investigator William C. Dear, author of a book aptly titled O.J. is Innocent and I Can Prove It; he's determined to prove his theory by enlisting the help of Rhode Island police sergeant Derrick Levasseur (previously seen on the reality TV show Big Brother—again, nothing makes sense) and forensic psychologist Kris Mohandie. Dear believes that it was O.J. Simpson's son Jason who actually committed the murders—possibly because he was upset that Nicole did not come to his restaurant for dinner.

There's "evidence" found in journals where Jason mentions a knife and references Jekyll and Hyde, as well as a photo of Jason wearing a black knit hat similar to the one left at the crime scene. Further proving his theory? Afterward, Jason was only photographed in gray hats. There's confusion about the established timeline (Nicole's watch stopped before the prosecutors said the murders occurred, possibly broken in the scuffle) and a wonky alibi (Jason's time card for that night is handwritten, but the other dates are typed); there's also a knife that Dear retrieved from Jason's old public storage facility, which may (or may not) have blood in the sheath.

Levasseur and Mohandie begin to work the case, often skeptical, but keeping their minds open. They investigate the watch, the two-footprints theory, some blood on a sock, and bring their concerns to Tom Lange, retired LAPD detective and lead investigator on the case. Lange promptly refutes them—almost comically so—speaking sternly but with the wariness of someone who has spent more than two decades facing the same questions, and who no longer gives a shit about alternate theories. If you found yourself slowly coming around to Dear's theory, Lange shuts you down, too—until we switch back to Dear's adamance that it was Jason.

That's the key to The Missing Evidence (and similar true crime docuseries): It questions your knowledge and flips contrary evidence in a way that maybe, possibly, could prove the opposite of what's established. There is nothing particularly damning in The Missing Evidence—just a lot of little stories that you can shove together like slightly off puzzle pieces. They don't quite fit, but you can at least see the finished picture. There's an anonymous interview in a shadowy staircase with a person who recalls that Jason once slammed down a payphone; a handwriting expert who provides insight to Jason's brain; and, in one of tonight's episodes, a focus on Simpson's infamous If I Did It maybe-confession book, in which Simpson imagines that he would've had an accomplice—surely that's evidence of a father-and-son murder duo.

Dear's own undoing might be his complete obsession with the "evidence" he's clung to forever. He says he wants Mohandie and Levasseur to speak up if they have doubts (if he is proven wrong, Dear says, he will apologize publicly), but when they do, Dear often doubles-down on what he already believes. It feels less investigation and more personal obsession—"This is a note that I pulled out of [Jason's] trash in 2000," he deadpans at one point—especially when he reveals that he's hired a private investigator to follow Jason around, and shows us the tapes. The Missing Evidence is both ballsy and incredibly stupid: It takes gall to go full-speed ahead with a televised theory like this, and it might result in a lawsuit akin to Burke Ramsey suing CBS. (Each episode begins with a Martin Sheen–delivered disclaimer that these opinions "represent just some of the many conceivable scenarios" and "we encourage viewers to reach their own conclusions.")

It's highly unlikely that The Missing Evidence will drop a major bombshell and solve the case tonight, nor will Dear concede that he's wrong. Instead, it will likely play out like most docuseries of this kind: ending on a question and ultimately adding nothing, which is less of a reflection of the case and more of the audience. While watching the episodes, it's so tempting to believe in what's being told to us even if those beliefs disappear when the credits roll. The Missing Evidence works well enough to change our minds for just a few minutes, but it's quickly clear that it's not so much indisputable facts and hard evidence, but instead the compelling, authoritative nature of television that's more convincing.

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