The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story just finished airing its first episode. If you read the review I published on Monday, you know I had much more mixed feelings about this season than People v O.J. Simpson, so let’s get into a few specifics about the premiere, coming up just as soon as I work on my father’s pineapple plantation in the Phillipines…
“I’m sure you’re going to be someone really special one day.” –Gianni
Of the eight episodes FX gave critics in advance, “The Man Who Was Vogue” is the one that most closely resembles many of the things that people loved about the OJ season. Though Gianni Versace gets shot before the opening titles appear, the San Francisco flashback and the arrival of Donatella to deal with the aftermath of her brother’s murder keep the hour relatively balanced between the Versaces and Andrew Cunanan. There’s an abundance of garish real-life details, like the guy who tried to auction off a photo of Versace’s body on the gurney and the autograph hounds who scooped some of Versace’s blood into a bag. And via the manhunt for Cunanan and the interactions between the local cops and the FBI agents, we start to get a sense of how badly law-enforcement blew this one, just like the OJ prosecutors did.
But even here, the focus is ultimately much more on Cunanan than on his most famous victim. The San Francisco sequence is told from Cunanan’s point of view. He’s the one who has figured out how to get next to the visiting gay celebrity, the one who spins so many lies that he’s being called out about it even at this early period by the people unlucky enough to know him (“You tell gay people you’re gay and straight people you’re straight”), the one whose magazine cover shrine to Versace resembles the behavior of a serial killer years before Cunanan would actually become one.
Your mileage may vary, but my patience for Cunanan as the central figure of the story was ebbing before we got to the end of the first episode, despite strong work by Darren Criss. Most of the really compelling stuff happened away from the killer: Edgar Ramirez embodying the casual grace and charisma of the legendary Versace, Penelope Cruz doing the same for the imperious Donatella, Ricky Martin’s grief as Antonio, and the glimpses of the cops and feds bumbling their way through this even after Cunanan’s spree had just become national news. There’s a fundamental emptiness to a man who has built his life on lying and copying what other people do that’s tough to sustain dramatically over a long period, and there are already bumps in that at this stage.
Still, Ryan Murphy does his usual excellent job directing the actors, and his visual sense is well-served by the sequences at Versace’s Miami palace and at the opera in San Francisco. We have to fully comprehend the beauty of this man’s life to appreciate both why Cunanan was fixated on him and what he took from the people around Gianni when he fired those bullets.
It’s a mixed start to a mixed season, and one I will be writing about periodically rather than every week. I don’t think anyone’s well-served by me stating the same complaints about Cunanan again and again, so I’ll check in on certain episodes (probably returning for the third hour) and sit back on others.
But what did everybody else think of the premiere?