Spellbinding 'Versace' about so much more than murder

Posted 1/17/18

By Kevin McDonough

The television year begins in earnest with "The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story" (10 p.m., FX, TV-MA).

The story opens with the murder of fashion designer Gianni Versace (Edgar Ramirez) outside his …

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Spellbinding 'Versace' about so much more than murder

Posted

By Kevin McDonough

The television year begins in earnest with "The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story" (10 p.m., FX, TV-MA).

The story opens with the murder of fashion designer Gianni Versace (Edgar Ramirez) outside his Miami mansion in 1997. But rather than settle into a court drama or police procedural, it offers a profound meditation on the psyche of Versace's assassin, Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss).

Cunanan's story unfolds in a series of overlapping flashbacks, recalling his past as a delusional hustler who preyed upon the vanity of older and powerful men, using them to live lavishly and beyond his means. As the episodes of "Crime Story" pile up, we dig deeper into Cunanan's story, culminating in a string of murders that ended at Versace's front door.

In some ways, the title is misleading; it should be "The Assassin of Gianni Versace." It's about 15 percent victim and 85 percent killer. But it's 100 percent fascinating.

Still, people will be talking about Penelope Cruz as the designer's sister, Donatella Versace, and Ricky Martin playing his partner and lover, Antonio D'Amico.

On a deeper level, if the "The People v. O.J. Simpson" season of "Crime Story" was about race, "Versace" is about the psychotic pursuit of wealth and status, and how "normal" such avaricious obsessions have become in our society - particularly on television. At times Cunanan seems like Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) from the 2000 movie "American Psycho." But plenty of times his label-obsessed behavior would put him right at home on Bravo's "Million Dollar Listings."

In one telling scene, he assaults his mother because she substitutes a budget store-brand ice cream for Haagen-Dazs.

With "Versace," creator Ryan Murphy has chosen to tell the story of a gay martyr and a gay monster. The series offers viewers a rather bracing look at how gay identity and gay lifestyle are portrayed within popular culture. We see as Versace struggles with the idea of coming out in the late 1990s, just as the specter of AIDS began to recede.

With Cunanan, Murphy plays with a character who is fully diabolical yet frighteningly familiar. He is frequently charming, erudite and witty and at the same time brittle, shallow, neurotic and obsessed with status and expensive things.

"The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story" is well worth watching. And like that rarest of television dramas, it's also worth thinking about.

TONIGHT'S OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

• Double vision on "The X-Files" (8 p.m., Fox, TV-14).

• A school merger brings Jughead closer to the scuttlebutt on "Riverdale" (8 p.m., CW, TV-14).

• Atwater vanishes on "Chicago P.D." (10 p.m., NBC, TV-14).

• Tabatha Coffey counsels small business owners on "Relative Success With Tabatha" (10 p.m., Bravo, TV-14).

SERIES NOTES

Treasure hunting on "The Blacklist" (8 p.m., NBC, TV-14) * A shop class accident on "The Goldbergs" (8 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) * Maya creates a home school on "Speechless" (8:30 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) * A search for a drone turns deadly on "SEAL Team" (9 p.m., CBS, TV-14) * An airline's unhappy skies on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (9 p.m., NBC, TV-14) * An accident hits close to home on "9-1-1" (9 p.m., Fox, TV-14) * Missing in action on "Modern Family" (9 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) * Cristal fights for her marriage on "Dynasty" (9 p.m., CW, TV-14) * Oliver's first date is a bust on "American Housewife" (9:30 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) * Central Park carnage on "Criminal Minds" (10 p.m., CBS, TV-14).

LATE NIGHT

Molly Shannon, Aaron Sorkin and Mo Welch appear on "Conan" (11 p.m., TBS) * Ricky Gervais, Matt Czuchry and Jon Bon Jovi are booked on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert" (11:35 p.m., CBS) * Luke Evans, Sean "Diddy" Combs, Nicole Sullivan and John Stanier visit "Late Night With Seth Meyers" (12:35 a.m., NBC) * Ed Helms and Stefflon Don appear on "The Late Late Show With James Corden" (12:35 a.m., CBS).

© 2018, United Feature Syndicate