Stream On: American Crime Story

By on November 7, 2019

Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden prepare to argue a case that they “can’t lose” in The People vs. O.J. Simpson. (IMDB.com)

This ambitious FX true-crime anthology series has two brilliant seasons out, with more to come. Sticking tolerably close to the facts, it examines notorious American crimes without editorializing (not easy in the first season) while extracting every bit of drama from them.

Season 1: The People vs. O.J. Simpson

The first season of ACS (2016) recreates the setting of the 1994 murders of football star and actor O.J. Simpson’s ex-wife and her friend Ron Goldman, its discovery, the police investigation and taking into custody of O.J., the trial and its aftermath, and is gripping from beginning to end of its ten episodes.

The talent is A-list: Cuba Gooding Jr. is O.J. and David Schwimmer (Friends, Band of Brothers) plays his best friend Robert Kardashian. Sarah Paulson (Deadwood) plays Marcia Clark and Sterling K. Brown (This is Us) is Chris Darden, the unhappy prosecutors struggling to keep a dead certainty of a case from slipping through their fingers. At the defense table, Nathan Lane (Modern Family), John Travolta, Courtney B. Vance (Law and Order: Criminal Intent) and Evan Handler are F. Lee Bailey, Robert Shapiro, Johnny Cochran and Alan Dershowitz, respectively.

O.J.’s mercurial mental state and contradictory responses to the crime and investigation are examined with subtlety by Cuba Gooding, also the case’s effect on his friendship with Rob Kardashian and his family (he was “Uncle O.J.” to the Kardashian girls). Lead prosecutor Marcia Clark was going through a bitter divorce, and African-American Chris Darden became unpopular with some friends and neighbors after signing on to the case against O.J. The assembling of O.J.’s defense team was not uneventful, nor was Darden’s idea of having the defendant try on the glove found at the scene of the crime, which haunted him after it put the finishing touches on the defense’s case.

It’s gripping and informative entertainment. Here’s a two-minute trailer: “You saw it all, but you don’t know the half of it.” Both seasons of ACS are available with subscription to Netflix; the second, The Assassination of Gianni Versace, is also available on demand from a half dozen streaming services. [TV-MA]

Andrew Cunanan, a failed fantasist and serial killer, fixes his sights on designer Gianni Versace in The Assassination of Gianni Versace. (IMDB.com)

Season 2: The Assassination of Gianni Versace

In 1997 celebrated Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace was shot and kiled as he returned from a morning walk to his mansion in Miami. His assassin was a sociopathic fantasist, gigolo, and drug dealer, Andrew Cunanan, who had already killed four, including two former boyfriends, an older real-estate developer with whom he had had an affair, and a groundskeeper whose truck he stole while eluding police.

Like O.J. Simpson prosecutors Marcia Clark and Chris Darden, the police failed, here, in preventing Cunanan’s last two murders, which were committed after he was added to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list.

Different in tone than Season 1, The Assassination of Gianni Versace (2018) is told with a shifting timelime, its main focus being the assassin and his strange journey from child of an audacious failed stockbroker who deserted his family, to prolific liar in high school, to pretender who befriended many  wealthy older gay men, living at their expense. He became obsessed with Versace, whom he apparently met in San Fransisco in 1990.

Along the way he befriended the friend of a former lover whom he killed, and began an affair with him, ultimately killing him too, with a pistol stolen from the lover, a navy veteran.

The other plot thread concerns Versace (Édgar Ramírez, The Bourne Ultimatum, Zero Dark Thirty)and his formulative childhood years in Italy when he received encouragement from his mother, a dressmaker. Versace later encouraged his unconfidant sister Donatella (Penélope Cruz, 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express in her TV debut) to take over his international fashion-design company. Unlike manipulative Cunanan, Versace was an altruistic and generous friend to his sister and employees.

Of special note is a scene in which Cunanan (Darren Criss, who received Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for his performance) and his second victim-to-be David Madson (Cody Fern, House of Cards) go to a club. Guest star Aimee Mann is onstage, playing an acoustic cover of the Cars’ “Drive,” while a nervous Madson in the men’s room considers surreptitiously leaving and Cunanan silently breaks down at their table, to the lyric “Who’s gonna come around, when you break?”

Here’s a 1:15 trailer to this excellent season. [TV-MA]

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