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American Crime Story: Versace walks a tight rope

New season is masterful, but less poignant

Photo courtesy of: FX

The season premiere of The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story is a wonder to behold. Producer Ryan Murphy returns after 2016’s lauded first season, The People v. O.J. Simpson with a new and true murder story from the 1990s.

Similar to American Horror Story, American Crime Story follows Murphy’s anthological style of storytelling. So, viewers need not watch the previous season in order to understand the new one.

Telling the events leading up to and following fashion designer Versace’s assassination by Andrew Cunanan, the new season stars Edgar Ramirez as Versace, Darren Criss as Cunanan, and Penelope Cruz as Versace’s sister, Donatella. While the star-studded cast delivers, the real star is the lavish overall production design and gorgeous cinematography.

Since the show is about the murder of one of the most famous fashion designers of all time, it is fitting that the show should place a dominant focus on aesthetics. The series opens with an eight-minute long sequence that crosscuts between Versace and Cunanan on the morning of the murder.

The scene is almost entirely devoid of dialogue, captivating viewers with loud, grandiose, classical music. It is all captured with swirling cinematography that sweeps across Miami Beach and Versace’s villa, mirroring a dream. Everything comes to a sudden stop when Cunanan shoots Versace on the steps of Versace’s estate.

From there, a police investigation that viewers have seen thousands of times in countless shows and films begins. What sets American Crime Story apart from the average murder-mystery thriller and previous media portrayals of the story is the way in which the tales are told.

Cutting between the time immediately after the murder and various events years before it, the show makes the viewer empathize with each character while fully developing them. Several characters deliver complete monologues within the first episode. The flashbacks showcase the important events before the murder, such as Cunanan and Versace meeting several years earlier, but also give a sense of who the people are on a deeper level, through multiple scenes of Cunanan interacting with his close friends and family.

Still, everything is purposefully and perfectly placed. This season of American Crime Story is a nine-part, in-depth exploration—not a two-hour abridged version of the true story. The only fault that one could find in the show is its cultural relevance.

Yes, Murphy knows better than anyone that audiences love a good, twisting story, which the show promises. However, a huge reason for the success of the first season, both critically and commercially, were its overall implications.

The O.J. Simpson trial remains one of the most important moments in America’s history of racial relations; with shocking police shootings at the forefront of the news before and during its run on FX, 2016 was the perfect time for the first season to air.

But that contextualization isn’t present with this season, and certainly not with Versace. The show seems to be hinting at a discussion about the understanding of people in the LGBTQ+ community in American society, but is that what the assassination and investigation is really about? If it is, then the show must deliver on the same level of excellence it did two years ago. If it isn’t, than Versace may be nothing more than an exquisitely drawn portrait of a life and crime that needs no new retelling.

American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace airs Wednesdays at 10p.m. on FX. ·

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