- “American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace” is not what its subtitle suggests.
- Instead, the murder of Gianni Versace in 1997 serves as a starting point into the story of his killer, Andrew Cunanan.
- The show is a necessary and poignant examination of gay culture in the 90s.
- Unlike other murder shows, it focuses on the lives of Cuanan’s victims, beyond the most famous one.
- Darren Criss, Penelope Cruz, and Ricky Martin are excellent.
Want to learn about Gianni Versace, revolutionary fashion designer and gay icon? Looking for an in-depth, inside look at his July 1997 murder in Miami? Look somewhere else. Because while the title implies this is exactly what “American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace” is about, that’s only the starting point.
The series does give us a glimpse of Versace’s life – both his relationship with his long-time partner, Antonio D’Amico, and with his sister, Donatella (Penelope Cruz) – but the series also looks way beyond that, and is so much better for taking the risk.
Of all the TV that’s out there, and I know it’s overwhelming, this is a show you should set aside some time to watch.
The first season of “American Crime Story,” which premiered to critical acclaim in early 2016, followed the 1995 O.J. Simpson trial. It went on to win 9 Emmy Awards, including best limited series and best actress in a limited series for Sarah Paulson, who played prosecutor Marcia Clark. “The People vs O.J. Simpson” was inventive in the way it was told, with episodes not just from the perspectives of key players like O.J., the defence, and the prosecutors, but also the jurors.
Still, the season’s glaring flaw was that, like a lot of fiction and nonfiction work surrounding the O.J. case, the victims, Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman, were still just catalysts for a larger story.
But “Versace” recognised that flaw and made a show about the origins of a killer while focusing on all of his victims. The result is a fascinating examination of class, sexuality, and gay culture in the 90s.
The series starts with the assassination of Gianni Versace (Edgar Ramirez) at the hands of Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss). From then on, Versace serves as a side character and a parallel to Cuanan.
Based on Maureen Orth’s book “Vulgar Favours: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History,” the series goes beyond its subtitle and tells a story that only a bold, visionary storyteller like executive producer and co-creator Ryan Murphy could tell in such a compelling, thoughtful, and colourful (literally and figuratively) way.
The series follows Cunanan on his journey of seducing wealthy men, becoming a part of their lives – and making a living off of them – then ultimately murdering them, brutally. Then, on to the next one. But the twist is that the story is told backwards, starting with the murder of Versace, and going backwards until, by the end of the season, we finally get a glimpse of Cunanan’s first crimes, which started with his complicated relationship with his father.
In the series’ stand-out episode (FX made 8 episodes of 9 available to the press), Judith Light guest stars as the conflicted wife of one of Cuanan’s victims: 72 year old Lee Miglin, a Chicago real-estate developer who was found dead in his home, bound with duct tape. Miglin’s wife goes out of her way to keep the news that her husband was murdered by a gay lover quiet, demonstrating that not so long ago, being gay was something most people wanted absolutely nothing to do with. The episode’s focus on what Light’s character goes through while finding out the truth about her husband – and what to do with it – separates this murder show from others before it, by not only showing the lives of the victims, but their loved ones as well.
The most captivating element of Cunanan’s story, as told in “Versace,” is the “what if.” If the detectives responsible for finding Cunanan hadn’t been blinded by gay stereotypes, maybe they would have stopped him before he killed more people, including Versace. Versace and his partner Antonio (played by a well-cast, natural Ricky Martin of “Livin La Vida Loca” fame) would have also led very different lives in a more accepting culture. And Donatella, too, whose disappointment in her brother’s lack of a leaving behind an heir for their fashion brand is the conflict that drives their story throughout the season.
The biggest surprise is also the best part of “Versace”: its star, Darren Criss. In his creepy and careful performance, Criss proves that he’s so much more than the performer I, and I’m sure many, assumed he was. Starting his film and television career on “Glee” as Blaine Anderson, a very mature high school student who belts Katy Perry songs at every moment possible, and venturing not much further from that in theatre productions like “How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” Criss’ transformative performance is one of those rare roles where you won’t be able to imagine anyone else but him playing it.
“American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace” premieres tonight on FX. Watch the trailer below:
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