TV Review - The Assassination of Gianni Versace
Hollywood over the past decade has output a lot of TV shows where the villain or bad guy is the protagonist. Specifically, there have been a significant number of programs where a serial killer is either the protagonist or main character who takes center stage in protagonist-like ways. Some notable examples are Dexter on Showtime, The Following on FOX, Hannibal on NBC, The Fall on Netflix, the recently cancelled Time After Time on ABC, and Bates Motel on A&E. There are other TV shows that fit into this mold like Breaking Bad on AMC or House of Cards on Netflix.
Each of those shows are exquisitely crafted, but each are problematic in their own ways. A lot of the time it depends how those shows ultimately end. A lot of those aforementioned shows can really revel in the gore and violence like Hannibal, much as a horror film would with the goal of disturbing the audience, but the ending can shape how all that revelry should be received, or what the takeaway should be.
The ending to Dexter was atrocious, but the ending to Bates Motel was superb. Therefore, my feelings about this series might change based on how it ends. Unfortunately, this series is based on a true-crime where the outcome is known. It's not like Dexter, which is a fictional narrative. I can already guess based on how the first five of nine episodes go on how the ending will affect me.
In many of these stories about serial killers, the anchor is often the police or the detectives investigating. In The People V. O. J. Simpson, the anchors were the lawyers, specifically the prosecuting attorneys. If anything, the breakout stars of that season were Sarah Paulson who played Marcia Clark and Sterling K. Brown who played Christopher Darden. Clark and Darden were the prosecuting attorneys. Those anchors help to keep the whole thing from sinking totally into depravity. Those anchors as counterparts aren't always required, but there's got to be something to keep us from sinking into total depravity and I'm not sure this show has it, or if it does, whatever it is gets lost.
Maybe this is intentional on the part of writer Tom Rob Smith and co-executive producer Ryan Murphy who has been the leading, creative force behind both this season and last. Both Murphy and Smith are openly gay, and in this country for decades, the deaths or murders of LGBT people, especially gay men or trans-women haven't been treated with the same importance, or with the same care. Sometimes, it's something as simple and as insidious as the police not mentioning or acknowledging that the victim was gay, even when it's an element of the crime, as the third episode shows. By focusing on the corpses, lingering on them, maybe it's Murphy and Smith's way of forcing or reckoning with how gay victims have been dismissed or sometimes ignored.
That's an extrapolation that can be gained from this series, but the structure and pacing, however, negate whatever homophobia this series might want to expose. The first, two episodes are fine and everything this series wants to say is said in just those two episodes. The next three episodes change direction and attempt to deconstruct the psychopath at the center, but it doesn't. It mires him in a one-note mode of wickedness and insanity. It attempts to give voice or breath to the victims who are left in his wake, but it doesn't. They are merely victims swept up in the wave of killing. Glimpses of insight are washed over with shocking acts of violence that undermine the whole enterprise. The exception is Episode 5, possibly.
Initially, Criss' performance is reminiscent of Matt Damon's in The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) or Will Smith in Six Degrees of Separation (1993). He's a quick witted, smooth-talking, ingratiating, social climbing sycophant. He's clearly a pathological liar with a desperate desire to be connected to the wealthy without doing anything to earn it. This series invites psychoanalysis of Andrew, but only in the first episode. By the second, he's just on the run. The third and fourth episodes portray him as a sheer psychopath who's mostly vapid. Surely, that changes in episodes six to nine as the chronology moves backward and we delve into Andrew's childhood, but I already don't care, which is why the show should have reversed the order of the episodes.
Episode 4 is a prime example of sinking into depravity, following a horror scenario simply for horror's sake. One can condemn the episode for being an exercise in pure conjecture, which would be fine, if it wasn't needed. Episode 5 is better for supplying more of a platform to explore the characters who would be Andrew's first murder victims, Jeffrey Trail, played by Finn Wittrock, and David Madson, played by Cody Fern. Jeffrey is the first person killed by Andrew, and if anything, Episode 5 is in part a tribute to him, as it underlines homophobia in the military during the 90's, and it's actually the most tribute one of the victims gets other than the titular character.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Wednesdays at 10PM on FX.