The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story: “The Man Who Would Be Vogue” Season 2 Premiere Review

Photo Credit:http://variety.com/2018/tv/news/ryan-murphy-responds-to-versace-family-saying-american-crime-story-fiction-1202658216/

The biggest question I had coming out of the premiere of the second season of American Crime Story is who this season of the show is for. “The Man Who Would Be Vogue” is a fairly tense hour of television with an undeniable aesthetic beauty and a few strong performances that could grow into something truly special. But the episode, directed by executive producer Ryan Murphy, fails to stir the questions that even the first episode of The People v. O.J. Simpson managed to. Maybe the comparison is unfair. The Assassination of Gianni Versace has to live up to one of the best seasons of television in the history of the medium. But this batch of nine episodes will be its own thing unto itself, and TV often needs a couple episodes to get going, even when created by the same writers behind one of the decade’s most outright masterpieces.

This is not to say “The Man Who Would Be Vogue” is a bad episode of television—it’s not—but that the initial punch we’ve been spoiled with by the previous season, as well as countless other shows in this golden age, is missing. That sense is mostly brought on by a so-far decidedly uncomplicated portrayal of the incredibly complicated Andrew Cunanan. Darren Criss acts his ass off as Gianni Versace’s killer, but little of his performance dares poke beneath the surface. The premiere is divided between two timelines: in 1990, Cunanan was introduced to and subsequently went on a date with Versace (Edgar Ramirez); and in 1997, after killing four other men, Cunanan marched up to Versace’s porch and shot him before escaping and starting a manhunt across Miami Beach. The earlier version of the killer is written with more complications and pathos—as a gay man living in the midst of the AIDS crisis, he’s ostracized himself from his orientation except with those that share it with him. We see how little he has in his life, and the lies he tells to give the impression of substance, but we never see him feel.

Now, the script is of course walking a razor-thin line in avoiding making him relatable while lacing in as much of these facts as they can to give us a surface-level understanding of his motives. But so much of the premiere is devoted to this line that it all ends up feeling emotionally empty. Ramirez does little to draw us to Versace with the screentime he has, though he’s often playing second fiddle to either Criss or Murphy’s tension building. The second half of the premiere gives us our first looks at Ricky Martin as Versace’s lover Antonio D’Amico and Penelope Cruz as Donatella Versace, but they don’t feel like much more than first looks, like the prologue to (hopefully) much more interesting material to come. Of the main four, it’s Cruz who makes the most lasting impression, largely thanks to how Murphy chooses to wield the camera around her, having it practically bow down in awe. Once Cruz is given more screentime, her performance will have to keep up with the special attention.

All considering, the premiere feels like it’s in a rush to get to the next plot point in just about every scene that doesn’t feature Cunanan. Hopefully the writers just took this episode to blow past the murder itself and get to exploring the issues it wants to in the coming episodes. “The Man Who Would Be Vogue” hints at more introspective explorations of the status of celebrity culture and the repression of gay men, but first and foremost, it exists to tell you that Gianni Versace was murdered, which the title already accomplished. Murphy dabbles a bit here in his more self-indulgent directorial tendencies, with big, loud character moments and trickery for the sake of trickery, making The Assassination of Gianni Versace immediately feel more akin to a season of American Horror Story than The People v. O.J. Simpson. But again, maybe these comparisons are unfair to make so early. This second season of the anthology series deserves a chance to speak for itself when it’s had more time to actually say something. And until it has its say, or shows that it intends not to, I’m still optimistic. Grade: B

By Matt Dougherty

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