The success of American Crime Story: The People vs O.J. Simpson was a surprise to pretty much everyone. Arriving at a time when anthology shows were producing diminishing results and creator Ryan Murphy’s name was more synonymous with musicals and camp than it was ‘prestige’ drama, most people went in expecting a guilty pleasure at best.
And the genius of the show was that it managed to be both – candy-covered appointment television and quality drama that had something to say about our times both past and present.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace has a fair amount to live up to, then, but not as much to prove. Where season one was tackling issues of race, season two wants us to think about sexuality.
If you’ve watched even five minutes of a Ryan Murphy project before, you’ll know that he doesn’t really do ‘subtle’. Nothing with Murphy’s name attached could be described as beige or uninteresting or even unambitious – it’s loud and pointed and deliberate. None of this, of course, is an insult. Murphy’s shows get noticed and get people talking, and The Assassination of Gianni Versace is no different.
Like O.J. Simpson in season one, the murder of Versace is perfect subject matter for what American Crime Story is trying to achieve. By choosing some of the most salacious and tabloid-worthy crimes from history, ACS is allowed to dig deeper into the psychological aspects of those people and events.
Because of the title, you might expect Versace to be the main player here, but he’s merely furniture in the stories of those around him. Without doubt, Darren Criss (as killer Andrew Cunanan) and Penelope Cruz (Donatella Versace) are the stars here, matched by a wonderful set of supporting performances including by not limited to Ricky Martin and Edgar Ramirez.
The first episode sets the scene – Cunanan is an ambitious yet delusional young gay man who becomes obsessed over time with his idol, Gianni Versace. We’re told that this killing isn’t his first, and that his presence on the FBI’s most wanted list did not prevent him from walking around Miami and getting close enough to Versace’s front door to shoot him close range.
Clearly, there’s a story about law enforcement here as well as the ever-fascinating ‘making a murderer’ tale.
While Criss gives a remarkable performance here as a man who just did something both terrifying and thrilling and not sure how to react in a way considered ‘human’, the first hour spends a lot of time establishing the impact of the death on Donatella and Antonio D’Amico (Martin), as they attempt to salvage legacies both private and professional while the wolves descend.
The most disturbing part of any tragedy is the way in which bystanders conduct themselves, here manifesting in amateur photographers selling their photos of the body to the highest bidder, or tourists making sure to smear magazine pages in the blood on the steps of Versace’s home. It’s macabre and, as much as we’d like to think otherwise, totally believable – this is what humanity is, warts and all.
As with the previous season, there is so much more story to tell following the actual murder. The how, when and who of murder isn’t the point, American Crime Story posits, and we should instead be asking why. The why of Andrew Cunanan promises to be a wild ride indeed.