‘American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace’ Review: An Odd Storytelling Technique Turns a Great Show into Just a Good One
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Showrunner: Tom Rob Smith
Main Cast: Darren Criss, Edgar Ramirez, Penelope Cruz, Ricky Martin
Notable Guest Stars: Finn Wittrock, Judith Light, Aimee Mann
Episode Length: 50-90 Minutes
The following review contains some spoilers
For the show’s second season, American Crime Story decided to go in a different true crime direction, albeit with much more flair. Despite being titled after legendary fashion designer Gianni Versace, the show focused much more on Andrew Cunanan, the man that killed him. By going into Cunanan’s past, we explored the violent road he took that led him to Versace, even if the legendary figure wasn’t all that involved in it. At times, the show felt like a SparkNotes version of what happened in real life, but at other times, it articulately showed a man looking to become famous, even if it meant infamy.
The first episode starts off with a bang (literally) as we see Cunanan kill Versace in front of his Miami Beach home on that fateful day in July 1997. From the first episode onwards, the show moves in a backwards chronological order, going from Versace, his fifth victim, all the way until before Cunanan even kills his first. It’s a storytelling format that has both positives and negatives, and it was easy to have mixed feelings about it.
The first half of the season was where the negatives seemed to appear more. For example, when Andrew kills his first victim, it’s a groundbreaking moment for the character; instead of being a weird person, he’s now a murderer. But you don’t really feel the impact of a moment like this because of the show’s backward format. Prior to his first murder, we’ve already seen him kill four other people, and the scene doesn’t hit maximum shock value as a result. A lesser gripe with this format was also the fact that suspense was lost as episodes went on, due to the fact that we knew what would happen to certain characters once they were introduced.
I mentioned previously that the show felt like a SparkNotes version of what happened in real life, and that was partially true. The show doesn’t really get into Cunanan’s motivations for the murders until almost the last third of the season, and by that point, all of his previous crimes had happened already. And when they were happening in the moment, they more or less felt like recreations of what had been reported, rather than looking for insights and motivations into why Andrew was doing everything. His backstory is crucial to these scenes, and without it, the show packs less of a thematic punch.
Despite the backward storytelling technique having some of these problems, I appreciated its boldness, and I was still engaged with the story, even if characters’ dialogue was shaky at times. I was annoyed throughout that the show wasn’t going in chronological order, but it was still intriguing to see where exactly the show would go back to in terms of chronology.
But easily my biggest problem with the show’s story was the much greater focus on Cunanan rather than Versace. Out of the season’s nine episodes, Versace is only in six of them, and he really only has a great presence in two or three of them. The same also applies to his sister Donatella, and his lover, Antonio D’Amico. There’s several recurring characters that have more screen time than they do, despite the fact that they’re considered the “main cast.” And in the early part of the season, where Versace has his greatest presence, he’s a bit of a mute. But towards the end of the season, pretty much all of his scenes consist of him yelling at Donatella. His inconsistent portrayal and lack of screen time were irritating to say the least. Isn’t the show named after him?
The show’s saving grace is, by far, the performances from the cast. Darren Criss is sublime as Cunanan, injecting the right amount of psycho, humor, and even sympathy into every line and action that he does. The one aspect I loved about Cunanan having such a large presence was watching Criss give the performance of his life every episode; he was never a dull sight to see. The rest of the main cast (Ramirez, Cruz, and Martin) all fared well in their roles, even if the scripts never really gave them a chance to shine. The rest of the recurring cast were all great in their roles as well, with particular shoutouts to Finn Wittrock and Cody Fern as Jeff Trail and David Madson, respectively.
If I were to have made this season of the show, I would have done it in a full chronological order. I admire the decision to go backwards, but it had mixed results that could’ve been done better. The show actually attempts to make the point that, prior to the killings, Cunanan and Versace weren’t all that different. If the show had gone in chronological order, explored more motivations and origins, and infused more of Versace, we could’ve seen more parallels between the two, and it would’ve made for a tighter, more suspenseful season.
In the end, The Assassination of Gianni Versace was an enjoyable season of television, even if it had more style than substance. The storytelling technique had some mixed responses, but you may enjoy it for its unique approach. Rounded out by a cast that’s full of all-star performances, you could do a lot worse than watching this show.
How Does it Compare to Previous Seasons?: This season wasn’t quite as good as The People v. O.J. Simpson, but I don’t feel that it’s a fair comparison. The two are very different shows, and you shouldn’t let that season’s presence interfere with watching this one.
Best Episodes: “The Man Who Would be Vogue,” “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” “Creator/Destroyer”
The Assassination of Gianni Versace is Recommended if You Like: True crime, stylish clothes, and people that are definitely richer than you.
Where to Watch: All episodes can be watched on the FX website with a valid cable login.
Grade: 3.4 out of 5 Versace Dresses
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