The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story Recap: Season 1, Episode 1, “The Man Who Would Be Vogue”

It is July 15, 1997. The sun is shining in Miami Beach. Gianni Versace, the famed and opulent Italian designer wakes up, grabs a fabulous robe, and heads to his balcony where he looks out onto the immaculate view; he’s like a king surveying his sun-kissed kingdom. The camera guides us to the beach where a young man is enjoying the morning breeze. In his backpack, he has two items: a copy of the book The Man Who Was Vogue: The Life and Times of Conde Nast and a gun. One need only look at the title of Ryan Murphy’s new show, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, to see how these two men are connected. By the middle of the first episode of the FX series, we witness the young man (Andrew Cunanan, played by Darren Criss) approach an affable Versace (a balding Edgar Ramirez) and shoot him at the steps of his home.

These first scenes are scored, as most of the Murphy-directed episode is, with operatic chords that amp up the capital letter DRAMA. And really, when you’re telling the story of one of the most infamous assassinations of the late 20th century in the United States, one involving an Italian fashion designer known for an aesthetic that flirts with what’s gaudy, you could do worse than aim for operatic drama.

And boy does Murphy deliver on that account. The first episode follows the events of that fateful day as well as flashing back to when (allegedly, we’re encouraged to take everything our sociopathic antihero tells his friends with a grain of salt) Cunanan and Versace first met. But let’s be honest, the main draw of this latest American Crime Story is its amazing cast.

You wanted to see Ricky Martin tapping into his Alcanzar una estrella II and General Hospital roots? You’ll find him here screaming out for help as Gianni’s partner after finding him bloodied on the steps of their home.

You wanted Ramirez to finally get a chance to show off the talent that’s nabbed him roles with Steven Soderbergh, David O. Russell, and Kathryn Bigelow? You’ll see him in full deglam mode as the aging Versace who’s both intrigued and slightly wary of the charismatic Cunanan.

Edgar Ramirez as Gianni Versace. Photo by Jeff Daly. Courtesy of FX Networks

You wanted Almodóvar muse Penelope Cruz deliciously using her Oscar-winning phrase (“gee-nee-us!”) but on the small screen to talk about Versace? You’ll see her totally transformed into the heartbroken – if driven – sister of the slain style mogul Donatella, who’s all platinum blonde hair flicks and heavily accented put-downs.

In sum, this is the place to be this winter if you want to see your faves chewing scenery and plunging us deep into a sun-dappled, neon-tinged world of murder, homophobia, and fame.

This Week’s MVP:

Ramirez may have the title role, Criss may dazzle with his uncanny take on the compulsive liar that is Cunanan, and Cruz may nail Donatella’s lower voice register and no-nonsense attitude, but – and here, perhaps my own Ricky obsession is showing – I loved the interaction that Martin’s Antonio D’Amico (in a blood-splattered tennis outfit) has with the police investigating Gianni’s murder. It illuminated why this story needs to be told in 2018.

Framed by gold-encrusted patterns, D’Amico is humiliated, needing to explain that he was Versace’s “partner” (“His companion. I loved him,” he tells the cop), but that he also procured young men who sometimes came to the house to have sex with one or both of them. The cop, claiming ignorance, asks him, “These other men, did they consider themselves to be Versace’s partner?” to which D’Amico is forced to talk about how it wasn’t the same; he’d been with Gianni for 15 years. But to these straight cops, Versace’s unorthodox romantic arrangement is as alien as the Greco-Roman decor that littered his estate.

Annaleigh Ashford as Elizabeth, Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan, Nico-Evers-Swindell as Phil. Photo by Ray Mickshaw. Courtesy of FX Networks

Therein lies the most radical aspect of The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story. It’s clear from the get-go that this show is interested in the insidious homophobia that still ran rampant in the late 90s and which encouraged law enforcement to treat crimes against homosexuals to be of lesser concern (and worthy of less empathy) than those happening to quote-unquote “normal” people.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, we’ll have to wait until next week (at least!) to get our first glimpse of Ricky in those tantalizing speedos he sports in the promo pictures for the show.