It’s fitting that the second season of FX’s American Crime Story is centered around the murder of Gianni Versace, because the series feels like style over substance. It’s like a high-end dress you’d see on a runway in Milan, something that looks ornate and artistic, but which is wholly impractical to wear.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (a cumbersome title) is surprisingly not focused on the fashion designer, played by Edgar Ramirez, who was shot in front of his Miami mansion in 1997. Instead, the focus is entirely on the assassin, Andrew Cunanan (Glee‘s Darren Criss), a pathological liar, con artist and sociopath who went on a murder spree that culminated with Versace.
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The show is essentially told in the style of the film Memento, a series of flashbacks that will slowly reveal the motivations and origins of Cunanan’s spree and his killing of Versace. The stylistic choice is one that will largely determine how much you enjoy the series.
For me (and I presume many others), Versace’s death and the four people Cunanan killed prior to him is not as well-known as the O.J. Simpson trial. It was a big story, but not one that captured America’s collective attentions for months and months. As a result, using a complicated storytelling structure makes American Crime Story difficult to invest in. Characters are introduced at the end of their stories, and then subsequent episodes offer insights into who they were and what led to their circumstances.
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But the style and structure are merely a distraction from what, at its heart, is a terrifying and fascinating portrait of a serial killer. Cunanan, as a character, is disturbing and Criss’ performance has an eerie lack of emotion that suits the show. The limited series travels down Cunanan’s psychological rabbit hole, and contrasting him with Gianni Versace only helps to illustrate how deranged Cunanan is.
The cast also includes Penelope Cruz as Gianni’s sister, Donatella, and singer Ricky Martin as Gianni’s long-time partner and lover. But the show largely wastes both of them, giving them almost nothing to do and having them both disappear for several episodes at a time. Othfer major characters, friends of Cunanan played by Cody Fern and Finn Wittrock, don’t show up until the fourth episode, but become very important.
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The series works best as a psychological drama, revealing piece-by-piece how and why Cunanan assassinated Versace and four other people. The flaws, however, lie in the fundamental structure of the season itself and perhaps in the violence. While the first season of American Crime Story was more of a sociological look at race and the judicial system, this season actually shows the demented and depraved violence, occasionally feeling more like a season of American Horror Story.
There are intriguing elements to American Crime Story‘s sophomore season, especially how it uses the misconceptions and shame of homosexuality in the ’90s that led to some police mistakes and may provide some insight into how Cunanan was able to elude capture for so long. But overall, the show feels unfocused, with its overly complex structure and lack of a consistent supporting cast.
Will you watch The Assassination of Gianni Versace?
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on FX. For more TV news, like BuddyTV’s Facebook page.
(Image courtesy of FX)