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The first season of American Crime Story was one of the best ever seasons of television so the second season of the anthology had a lot to live up to. The first season featured the well known story of OJ Simpson’s murder trail and subsequent acquittal while this season featured perhaps a lesser known story of the murder of the famed fashion designer, Gianni Versace.
As the season went on, the subtitle of the season, The Assassination of Gianni Versace, was more of a bait and switch as this season wasn’t about Gianni Versace (Edgar Ramirez) but rather his killer Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss). The season started with the murder of Versace by Cunanan and then retraced Cunanan’s steps from that point on. The majority of the season focused on this as we saw Cunanan murder of his four previous victims (Jeffrey Trail, David Madson, Lee Miglin, and William Reese) before Versace in reverse order until the time he was born.
The problem with that structure was that it became harder and harder to care. The backstory was interesting but it would have been better served addressing the aftermath of the Versace shooting. The season did address it by the finale, however, it was too little too late. Despite this, the first half of the season was actually good with the quality tapering off by the second half when the realization set in that this wasn’t the show that it was made out to be and Cunanan’s backstory became tiring with the unbearable penultimate episode being the last straw. Fortunately, the finale did right the ship a little bit.
Besides the title and the first episode, this season had little to do with Versace and focused heavily on Cunanan. Basically, if you don’t like Cunanan then you probably won’t find much to enjoy this season. He started off a great character but just got worse as the season went on which went in line with the seasons’s backwards structure. It was hard to care since we already knew the result of the story in each of the middle episodes. Fully psychopath Cunanan was the best Cunanan and the subsequent episodes saw him become more and more annoying. He was a pathological liar obsessed with status to the point that he would get rid of anything standing in his way.
To be fair to Gianni Versace, he appeared in a few episodes after his death, focusing on how he met Cunanan as well as the rise of his family company through the eyes of his relationship with his sister Donatella (Penelope Cruz) and his boyfriend Antonio D’Amico (Ricky Martin). Cunanan pretty much killed Gianni Versace out of jealousy. The first episode saw a Donatella having to put on a strong public face after her brother’s death and later tried to find her place within the company and that was it for her. D’Amico was in love with Gianni and fought for Donatella’s approval and that was it for him.
Despite the inconsistent story, the acting was good for the most part with Criss as Cunanan standing out above the rest which was pretty easy to do with a lion’s share of the screen time. He was at his best during the early episodes with an imposing screen presence while alternating between charming and menacing with ease (this scene stands out above the rest). The decline in Cunanan wasn’t his fault and was more due to the inconsistent writing (every episode had the same writer) and direction. Everyone on the Versace side of things were okay but it just got harder and harder to care about them. However, a few guest stars stood out including Judith Light as Marilyn Miglin and Cody Fern as Madson with Light’s performance being the best part of the season.
Overall, this was a decent season full of ups and downs that became worse once you realize that it wasn’t about what you think it was, focusing on Cunanan instead of Versace. If you’re willing to accept it then it’s not as bad. Cunanan was great at first and faded as the season went on and it just became harder and harder to get invested while waiting for the season to get back on track though it never did. The finale sort of righted the ship which was disappointing with the resolution to the Versace murder feeling rushed. Maybe it’s not fair to have high expectations after the first season but hopefully next year’s Katrina season will be better.