After the success of Glee, American Horror Story, and The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, it only seems appropriate to deem writer/producer Ryan Murphy television royalty. Glee wrapped up its sixth and final season in 2015, and American Horror Story is currently in between annual installments. Meanwhile, American Crime Story is in its second season, following its predecessor The People v. O.J. Simpson with the somewhat less known true crime story of the assassination of Gianni Versace. The season is announced to wrap up with a ninth episode planned for March 21st.
While The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story has received mostly positive critical reviews, it hasn’t had the same popular success as The People v. O.J. Simpson. Despite the glamour and excess that play a large thematic role throughout the season, Versace moves in a slow and calculated way. The murder is revealed amidst the chaos of the first episode, where those unfamiliar with the story are left in the dark about why such a heinous crime would be committed without any obvious motive. The rest of the season is left for the story to unfurl, as we watch serial killer Andrew Cunanan struggle with his demons in the years leading up to his killing spree in the late 1990s.
Versace does an excellent job handling character. Much like the antagonists of American Horror Story, an anthology series that shares a lot of stylistic similarities with Crime Story, the villain in Versace is crafted to perplex and disturb the viewer. Based on the real–life serial killer Andrew Cunanan, Darren Criss’s twisted and eerie portrayal gets under your skin right from his mysterious introduction in the first episode. His alarmingly effortless charm and marvelously elaborate lies give off a subtle red flag to everyone he encounters, and as a viewer you can feel the awkward tension fill the show’s oftentimes luxuriously decorated interiors.
In retracing Cunanan’s descent into darkness, Versace effectively handles themes of wealth, greed, and excess in a way that expands the true crime story beyond the three–months during which Cunanan was in hiding, killing those he encountered along the way. We discover that the young man never took to normal, reliable work and instead made money as an escort or a companion to wealthy, older men. We are shown that he is generous, but only with the money of others, and that he has an unquenchable thirst for luxury and attention. Even Cunanan’s verbosity and charisma play nicely into the excess he craves. These qualities make him a complex and engaging villain.
On the other side of this assassination is the famous fashion designer Gianni Versace. Versace ensures that we achieve an understanding of the kind of man he was before his untimely death in 1997. In line with the rich psychological exploration of his killer, the approach to capturing Versace cinematically is equally complex. The out–of–sequence unfolding of the story allows its layers to be painted on in a way that is suspenseful and engaging, but also does great work in forcing the viewer to participate in the piecing together of a challenging sequence of events.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story isn’t about finding Andrew Cunanan, or the failed manhunt carried out by the FBI after his addition to their most wanted list. It’s about the people involved, and how their lives would shape the tragedy foretold in the first episode. Versace is a smart, complex, and wonderfully stylish addition to the American Crime Story anthology series.