Reviews

The Michael Jackson Trial: E! News Presentation

Craig Seymour

The Michael Jackson trial reenactments are slightly more stimulating than a Jermaine Jackson ballad, but nowhere near as compelling as a LaToya Jackson psychic infomercial.


The Michael Jackson Trial

Airtime: Weekdays, 9pm ET, recaps on Saturdays, 10am and 4pm ET
Cast: Edward Moss, Jack Donner, Charles Haigh, Rigg Kennedy
Subtitle: E! News Presentation
Network: E!
Amazon

It's estimated that 27 million people watched the February 2003 documentary, Living with Michael Jackson, which featured the teenage boy at the center of the Michael Jackson case. Yet, when networks now show excerpts from this program, the boy's face is all pixilated like an errant brand logo or a naughty body part. It's like we're supposed to forget that we know exactly what this boy looks like, now that he's an alleged abuse victim. But this thinking goes against basic human nature. We're not less interested by things we can't see; we're more interested.

This is precisely why Judge Rodney Melville's decision to bar cameras from the Jackson trial courtroom has done little to dampen interest in the case. Within days, the E! Entertainment cable network -- the channel that raised red carpet award show coverage to an art form -- announced plans to air daily reenactments of the trial proceedings based on court transcripts.

At the time, it sounded like a brilliant move. The episodes seemed destined to become camp classics. But The Michael Jackson Trial: E! News Presentation been a snooze, slightly more stimulating than a Jermaine Jackson ballad, but nowhere near as compelling as a LaToya Jackson psychic infomercial. The fundamental problem with the show is its lack of weird, the primary quality that's kept us interested in the pop star for the last two decades. Jackson intrigues us because of the way he moonwalks across our cultural anxieties about race, gender, and sexuality. But The Michael Jackson Trial plays things straight.

Structured like a news program, it begins each night with host James Curtis sitting behind an anchor's desk, where he exclaims something such as, "Pow! Kazam! And wham! No, it's not the soundtrack from that old Batman TV series. It sounded more like the defense yesterday punching holes in the accuser's testimony." Then the show cuts to the reenactment footage, taped on a brightly colored, cheap-looking set that evokes People's Court.

So far, the reenactments concern the prosecution's case, with the primary witnesses being the accuser, his younger brother, and older sister. The actor playing the little brother has been the best so far, appropriately awkward discussing hands-in-underpants, internet porn, and Jesus Juice. But the young man impersonating the 15-year-old accuser has completely strained believability. He doesn't come close to resembling the actual boy (whom nearly 30 million of us have already seen). He looks like he's about 28, slicked-back, schoolboy hair notwithstanding. (In another awkward move, the boy's name is bleeped out during the reenactments. The protective impulse is understandable, but the constant bleeping gives the show a jarring test-of-the-Emergency-Broadcast-System feel.)

The court scenes rarely last for more than a couple of minutes, before the show jumps back to Curtis, who's joined by three criminal defense lawyers. They proceed to offer up some always-obvious analysis that has the legal complexity of an Ally McBeal episode. Then it's back to the fake courtroom for more reenactment snippets. These are the ingredients of every episode. Repeat for 30 minutes. (60 minutes on special days). Do not stir.

This formula deadens the show's energy and fails to let it rise to even the level of good bad-tv. Of course, The Michael Jackson Trial is necessarily constrained by what transpires in court, but it would help if we saw more of Jackson. Impersonator Edward Moss -- perhaps the only person outside of a transgender burn victim who could convincingly approximate Jackson's bizarro look-- is like a star waiting for his moment. Intently, he stares down each witness who takes the stand. Sometimes he looks on the verge of crying out in exasperation; other times, he grimaces like he's about to break into "Dirty Diana." Indeed, the high point of the reenactments occurred during the younger brother's testimony. The judge was ruling on an objection, when suddenly -- finally -- Jackson spoke. "I can't hear you," said the actor, wringing drama out of the utterly banal moment. "I can't hear you. Please speak up." If Jackson ever takes the stand, the show might live up to its over-the-top potential.

But there may be a bigger problem here. The shows are airing at a time when courtrooms in general are having a zeitgeist moment, what with the Scott Peterson sentencing, the Robert Blake and Lil' Kim verdicts, and the deadly courthouse rampage in Atlanta. Real courtroom images are all around us, making the Jackson reenactments seem silly. There's also a can't-put-the-genie-back-in-the-bottle thing going on. After we spent so much time in the courtroom with O.J., it's hard to return to relying on artists' sketches to give us on idea of what's happening during a trial. E!'s reenactments are little more than hurried watercolors come to life.

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