Are you watching “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”? I’m loving it for a number of reasons, not least of all the performances. It begins with Darren Criss’s Andrew Cunanan shooting Gianni Versace on his mansion steps, then moves backward across the season to chronicle his previous four murders.
As Cunanan, Criss is surprisingly good — surprising, if you only know him from “Glee” as the openly gay student Blaine, who went on to marry Kurt. He’s creepy and slippery as the killer who, Mr. Ripley-like, pathologically lies his way into the lives of wealthy gay men, many of them closeted. He’s a primping, rabid social climber who carefully studies and researches his prey, with Versace — with whom he has a date years before the murder — as his big goal.
I can’t say Criss humanizes Cunanan, even as he removes layer after layer of Cunanan’s armor as the script moves back to his formative years. And that’s a good thing; we get to see what may have contributed to his devolution, and the way he is a creature of homophobia as well as an exploiter of it, but we are never asked to see him sympathetically. He’s clearly a grandiose monster of bottomless insecurity. But then Criss also allows us to see how Cunanan managed to con smart men, how he remade his hatred into a kind of aggressive come-on in certain situations.
Criss delivers an energetic, committed, and thoroughly macabre turn that holds the nine-episode series together. In “Glee,” he was dreamy; in “Versace,” he’s the stuff of nightmares.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.