HOLLYWOOD—Ryan Murphy has a tool when it comes to storytelling. This is the guy behind the hit series “Glee,” and the FX series “American Horror Story” and the recent “American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson.” Murphy has returned with another crime story, one that people know about, but may not be 100 percent aware of all the madness that occurred behind the scenes of slain fashion designer Gianni Versace. Yes, nowadays many are aware of the household name because of his sister Donatella, who is a portrayed by Oscar-winner Penelope Cruz.
Let me say, Cruz is a stunning depiction of the fashion icon, but we got a very small slice of the character in the premiere episode. The bulk of the narrative really unfolded on the actual assassination of Gianni Versace (Edgar Ramirez), by obsessed fan and possible secret lover Andrew Cunanan portrayed with brilliance by Darren Criss. For those who haven’t done much research on the death of Gianni Versace and Andrew Cunanan, it might not be a bad idea to do so. Why? The limited series, while noted is inspired by interviews and actual events, we all know things are fictionalized to a degree to heighten the level of drama for the small screen.
I thought the opening sequence was pure brilliance. I had this fear this flick would work in chronological order similar to Murphy’s last outing with the story of O.J. Simpson. Not quite. This flick seems to be playing with the time element a bit utilizing the present and the past to convey its story. I’m never the biggest fan of any TV show or movie that alters the element of chronology unless it’s a vital element of storytelling. While we’re only one episode in on the series, at this point I’m ok with the jumps from the past and the present between the 1990 and 1997.
Now, with that notion out of the way, the bulk of this first episode really focuses on Andrew. This is a guy who is a closeted gay, who seems to be more focused on the world of dramaturgy. If you’re not aware what that means, it’s where one puts on a performance to stage an image of themselves to appease to others. We see this right off the bat, when Andrew has a conversation with a pal about meeting Gianni Versace. His pal is skeptical, and that later turns to a question about Andrew’s sexuality. The dialogue was utterly poignant as the friend revealed Andrew was free with his sexuality around gay people, but pushed his heterosexuality when he was around straight individuals. That scene transitions to an interesting set-up where the audience interacts with Andrew who is staying at the home of another friend. He is seen entering the bedroom of a husband and wife in just his underwear as he begins to fondle himself, while staring at the husband. Out of nowhere, the wife awakens, not able to fully grasp what is transpiring before Andrew immediate alters his behavior to throw off any suspicion.
The show is presenting Cunanan as a trouble individual, one who is mentally unstable, trying to explore or understand his sexuality, all while attempting to present himself in a light where he is accepted not only by his peers, but others where he hopes to become a part of the focal group. Some might ask the question rather the show is attempting to get the audience to sympathize with this serial killer who murdered a total of 5 people including Versace himself, and I’d have to argue I didn’t sense that. It’s more a testament about inviting the audience inside the mind of this troubled character.
I mean we see him walk up to Versace who is returning from picking up the local newspaper, and shot him several times in cold blood before fleeing the scene of the crime. After being chased by a member of Versace’s entourage he points a gun directly at the individual who backs away. He is not the least bit remorseful; he gets into a truck and screams in glee that he killed Versace. This is a complicated character we’re looking at here, and Criss is hands down a shoo-in for contention for awards season 2019. If this is what he has done with the character in just 1 episode, I can’t wait to see what other madness unfolds in coming episodes.
“The Assassination of Gianni Versace” is a series that has been so hyped, but it’s actually delivering on all fronts. We’ve gotten a slight glimpse of Versace’s personal life and the fact that he liked to visit gay clubs and have dalliances with young men behind closed doors. We got a very small tease into the world of his fashion empire, and what is certain to be a rivalry as Donatella aims to keep the company from going public. Oh, did I mention Ricky Martin is also part of the cast as Gianni’s lover. “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.