In the spring and summer of 1997, before everyone used Google to find whatever they wanted, before everyone used Facebook to creep on old crushes, before cell phones were in everyone’s pocket, recording every bit of life around them — before cell phones were cameras that could make phone calls — the nation was gripped by a cross-country manhunt.
The suspect: a serial killer who had struck in Minnesota, Chicago and New Jersey. The motive: unclear; the victims had no apparent connection. The method: bludgeoning, shooting, stabbing — brutal deaths that kept investigators of the FBI and local authorities guessing until clues linked the killings to Andrew Cunanan, a college dropout with no discernible job except cruising gay bars, occasionally selling drugs, and striking up relationships with rich, older men and spending their money.
In May 1997, Cunanan was added to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list — certainly a level of notoriety, but not quite the accomplishment for which Cunanan would ultimately be best known. That would happen a few months later, when he shot fashion designer Gianni Versace dead on the front steps of his Miami Beach mansion. The manhunt ended eight days later, when Cunanan’s body was found on a houseboat not far north of Versace’s home, killed by a self-inflicted gunshot to the temple.
FX’s much-lauded limited series “American Crime Story” takes on “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” for its long-awaited Season 2, starting Wednesday. Similar to its first outing, “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” it’s a story for which we know the ending but there is much to be revealed in the retelling.
A focus on the similarities between the successful Versace and the wayward Cunanan, for example, asks the question of how two souls who might have similar experiences — both grew up modestly, but not well-off; both may have felt like outsiders, being gay in environs where that wasn’t embraced; both came from Italian backgrounds (though Versace’s was quite a bit more prominent; Cunanan’s father was a Filipino immigrant, and his mother of Italian descent) — how does one rise to the heights of fashion, fame and celebrity, and the other cultivate it only through his crimes?
Versace’s Miami Beach house still stands, across from the oceanfront park on Collins Avenue in the city’s South Beach area, and show creator/executive producer/all-around hit-making machine Ryan Murphy filmed much of the series in the opulent mansion, lending a sense of realism if not macabre to the production. One definitely gets the sense of the excitement and joie de vivre Versace found living in an environment where people had no inhibitions or reservations about living how they wanted. The designer, whose creative and famous heights were reached in the ’90s, when his body-hugging, skin-baring designs traveled runways and red carpets, counted Princess Diana, Madonna and Elizabeth Hurley as clients, and J. Lo’s infamous, barely there 2000 Grammy dress carried the Versace name.
The show, based on the book “Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History,” by Vanity Fair writer Maureen Orth, stars Edgar Ramírez plays Versace; Ricky Martin plays his lover, Antonio D’Amico; Penelope Cruz is Donatella Versace, Gianni’s sister; and Darren Criss plays Cunanan, the intelligent, witty, pathologically lying killer. “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” premieres at 9 p.m. Wednesday on FX.
Do we need another hero? Signs point to yes. Chalk one up for DC, because they’re adding another of their superhero ranks to the CW. He’s an ordinary hero to the community, running a school that serves as a safe space for those who would be bullied by the gangs in town. But Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) is hearing the call of his previous life, the one when he harnessed the power of electricity and protected his city from villains as the vigilante crime fighter Black Lightning. Coincidentally, that’s the name of his new show premiering Tuesday. “Black Lightning” premieres at 8 p.m., following a new episode of his DC partner-in-crime-fighting, “The Flash,” at 7 p.m., on Ch. 15.2.
What else is new? Season 2 of NBC’s “Taken” premieres at 8 p.m. Friday on Ch. 15. “Saturday Night Live” returns live Saturday night, hosted by newly minted Golden Globe winner Sam Rockwell, of “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”; his musical guest is Halsey. “SNL” airs at 10:30 p.m. on Ch. 15.
And it’s finally for real for Sarah Jessica Parker and Thomas Haden Church when “Divorced” returns for a second season Sunday, followed by the subtly hilarious show about trying to make it as a comedian, “Crashing,” which also starts its second season; the shows air at 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., respectively, on HBO.