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Review: 'American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace'


A new TV crime series debuts tonight on FX. It is called "The Assassination Of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story." NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says the show tackles a whole lot more than the untimely death of a fashion icon.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Instead of calling it "The Assassination Of Gianni Versace," FX probably should have named this show The Disintegration Of Andrew Cunanan. That's because it's most compelling moments focus on Cunanan, the man who murdered Versace and four other people.

Played by "Glee" alum Darren Criss, Cunanan is a smart, glib social climber. He's also an occasional male escort with a habit of inventing stories about his life. When he claims to have arranged a date with Versace, a friend, who has a huge crush on him, confronts Cunanan who rationalizes his lying.


DARREN CRISS: (As Andrew Cunanan) I thought you'd be happy about it.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) About what?

CRISS: (As Andrew Cunanan) About Versace.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) That you'd brag about a date with Versace?

CRISS: (As Andrew Cunanan) It's not a brag.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) You can't even tell people you're gay.

CRISS: (As Cunanan) I tell people all the time. I've told people for years.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) You tell gay people you're gay and straight people you're straight.

CRISS: (As Andrew Cunanan) I tell people what they need to hear.

DEGGANS: Viewers hoping for a ringside seat to Versace's glittering star-studded career may be disappointed. The series starts with his death and works backwards in time. We see flashes of runway shows and dress fittings, but the scenes are predictable and not particularly revelatory. Instead, executive producer Ryan Murphy and writer Tom Rob Smith explore the pressures, discrimination and dangers gay men faced 20 years ago.

In one scene, after Cunanan guns down Versace on the steps of his Miami mansion, Versace's longtime romantic partner Antonio D'Amico speaks to police. D'Amico, played by Ricky Martin, struggles to endure insulting questions while explaining that they would sometimes bring other men into their bed.


RICKY MARTIN: (As Antonio D'Amico) It was whatever he wanted.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) These other men - did they consider themselves to be Versace's partner, too?

MARTIN: (As Antonio D'Amico) No. Of course...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) You see why I'm confused? What's the difference?

MARTIN: (As Antonio D'Amico) I lived with Gianni for 15 years. That is the difference.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) OK. Were they paid?

MARTIN: (As Antonio D'Amico) Most of the time, they just fell for him.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Were you paid?

MARTIN: (As Antonio D'Amico) Was I paid? To love him - was I paid to love him?

DEGGANS: Martin's character fights with Versace's sister Donatella played by Penelope Cruz. But at times, the fights seem more like an excuse to give these two stars something meaty to do given the show's focus on Cunanan. Ryan Murphy has said he wanted Criss' performance as Cunanan to make the same splash that Sarah Paulson made playing Marcia Clark in the 2016 installment of "American Crime Story: People v. O.J. Simpson." So the focus is often on Cunanan who cultivated relationships with wealthy older gay men.

But when he's dropped by a millionaire boyfriend and rejected by another man he loves, Cunanan goes on a killing spree. He visits Lee Miglin, a renowned Chicago developer, who is infatuated with him.


CRISS: (As Andrew Cunanan) You're trying to impress me, trying to pretend that this isn't merely about money - that this is merely a business transaction - that there's a genuine attraction between us.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As Lee Miglin) You can pretend too, Andrew.

CRISS: (As Andrew Cunanan) No, I am not like most escorts. I'm not like most anybody.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As Lee Miglin) I know it's not real, Andrew. I'm not a fool. You make it seem so real.

DEGGANS: Cunanan kills Miglin and another man before heading to Miami to stalk and kill Versace.

It's hard to know where facts stop and fiction starts in this story. Miglin's family has denied he knew Cunanan. Versace's family released a statement last week criticizing the series calling it, quote, "a work of fiction," which FX and Murphy deny. Ultimately, this "American Crime Story" is an uneven and unsatisfying account of a damaged young man who sought immortality through infamy. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.