Like its predecessor American Horror Story, American Crime Story comes in the form of a miniseries. While its first season explored America’s racial divisions through the OJ Simpson case, this new series depicts the gay experience in the USA.
The Horror Story miniseries always had an appealing base narrative, although it tended to sag after a few episodes. Crime Story, by contrast, has had a better reception overall – perhaps because its grounding in historical events means it has less room to get lost.
This second series, subtitled ‘The Assassination of Gianni Versace’, begins with the 1997 murder of fashion designer Gianni Versace outside his house in Miami, before spinning backwards (and forwards) to tell the story of his psychopathic killer, Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss), and the impact of Versace’s death on his sister, Donatella, who is – to many viewers’ excitement – played by Penelope Cruz. Another notable appearance is Ricky Martin as Gianni’s long-term partner.
Unfortunately, Criss’ Cunanan lacks flavour: within 15 minutes he has exhibited every symptom of Borderline Personality Disorder, and it’s a bit too textbook, relying on shocking acts to provide psychopathic bite.
However, the show comes together around Cruz’s Donatella, who is a strong presence and provides the intrigue to power the first few episodes.
There is a beauty to this show. It was filmed in and outside the grotesquely sumptuous Miami house where Versace lived and on the steps where he would eventually die. The contrast between the world inside the villa and the world outside, from Cunanan’s viewpoint, symbolises the contrast in gay men’s experiences.
Aesthetically it feels like a telenovela or a Pedro Almodóvar film, whilst on a more spiritual level it brings insight into the two Versaces, and both depictions have depth. Cunanan is a bit Crimewatch-esque, although all could change as the nine episode series continues and develops the rest of his story which involves, among other things, a four-man murder spree.
Alhough the key word in any of these ‘American -whatever- Story’ shows is ‘trashy’, in this case it works. The show has valid points to make about celebrity culture, such as the unpleasant couple who ask Gianni for his autograph on the day of his death. After he refuses, they manage later to mop up some of his blood onto a scrap of paper, showing perhaps how fame transcends or even thrives on death. Overall, it is a promising and unpredictable show that has a few cards left up its sleeve.
Image: Phillip Pessar via Flickr