American Crime Story’s second season underwhelms

The People v. OJ successor prioritizes visuals over writing

Edgar Ramirez as Gianni Versace in American Crime Story.
Edgar Ramirez as Gianni Versace in American Crime Story.
Screenshot from YouTube

I truly hope the second season of American Crime Story will serve as a successful follow-up to the first season’s success. But after seeing this first episode, I find myself left with more questions than answers.

I’ll admit I was already skeptical before watching the second season premiere of Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace.

The show’s debut season People v. OJ was a cultural phenomena, retelling the infamous story of OJ Simpson’s trial and completely changing the public’s perspectives of several key figures in the case. As a worried fan, I wasn’t sure if Ryan Murphy could replicate that success.

Murphy is notorious for producing phenomenal inaugural seasons of television, only for their follow-ups to leave something to be desired. He coupled two stellar seasons of American Horror Story with four subsequent seasons that could only be described as a hot mess.

He famously took his early critical darling Glee from a heartwarming show about high school outcasts belting out their feelings to Journey songs to a still unclear mess with a new cast talk-singing “What Does the Fox Say?” Murphy’s quality downfalls are usually a result of his ability to push the boundaries of television to the point of illogicality.

So after watching the premiere of ACS, airing on FX, I can confidently say Ryan Murphy has followed his own trend, albeit with a significantly larger budget than ever before.

There’s no denying Murphy has crafted a visually stunning premiere episode of television, so it’s a shame the caliber of writing has paled in comparison to both the episode’s aesthetics and the writing of the first season.

Murphy chose to take creative risks with the season, telling the story of serial killer Andrew Cunnanan in reverse, starting the season with Cunnanan’s final murder of fashion mogul Gianni Versace. The episode works backwards to show how Cunnanan’s life led him to such lows. However, within the first episode alone, several timelines are introduced and it becomes unclear how the rest of the season can coherently progress.

While at the very least this will probably be an entertaining — if not entirely historically accurate — season of television, Murphy uses narrative cop-outs that can typically be found in the most generic of CBS procedurals.

An example of these typical plot conventions includes a police chase of Cunnanan that ends in a takedown of the suspect, only for it to be an unrelated man wearing the same coloured shirt as the killer.

Another example is when Versace’s lover, played by Ricky Martin, remains covered in his boyfriend’s blood twelve hours after finding his body, because his lavish lifestyle apparently doesn’t afford him with a shower or a towel. These moments stand out as events that would never happen in the real world upon which this is all supposedly based.

Despite these shortcomings, the decision to film the show in Versace’s actual house gives viewers a connection to the fashion designer that’s necessary for such a one-note character. The architecture, clothing and decor of the home tells us all we need to know about his lavish life. The contrast of having Versace leave his home in a simple black t-shirt with white shorts to walk to the local newsstand in what would be his final outing humanizes him in a way that allows viewers to properly sympathize with his untimely end.

I don’t know that the time-hopping storytelling device used will portray a coherent narrative, but I still find myself eagerly anticipating the next episode — if not for a well written show, then at least for a visually pleasant one.

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