Season 2 of American Crime Story, The Assassination of Gianni Versace recently aired its finale. How well does it compare to season 1 — The People vs. OJ Simpson?
In season 1 of American Crime Story, the trial of OJ Simpson was the star. The heart of season 2 isn’t Versace, but his murderer and how he became one. Andrew’s other victims come to life as living, breathing people — something that is quite commendable.
This complements something that the final episode of season 1 explicitly states. The circumstances surrounding the OJ trial aren’t ancient history. It is as much if not more a part of our culture than ever before.
Both seasons of American Crime Story are well done and executed well, but they are radically different in terms of style.
The biggest difference is American Crime Story season 1 was almost exclusively a legal thriller. The subject was the “trial of the century.” The entire show focuses on the events taking place after the crime has occurred. Season 2 is the exact opposite, focusing on what occurred before or during the crime that begins the story.
The People vs. OJ Simpson also focuses on a larger scale about how the trial affected individuals, both relevant to the case and not. The Assassination of Gianni Versace is a deep character study of Andrew Cunanan, his life, and how it resulted in the crime.
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Unlike American Crime Story season 1, there is no large cast of famous characters whose motivations, actions, and choices all paved the way for the end result. There is not even the possibility of seeing Andrew inside a courtroom because Cunanan took his own life instead of being taken into custody. In this way, both seasons of ACS are bookends to each other.
One thing both shows have in common is the viewer probably knows what the ending will be. Virtually anyone knows that OJ Simpson was acquitted in the 1994 trial. While less may know that Versace was shot by Andrew Cunanan, who killed himself, it is still open knowledge in public awareness. The whole point of the show is not to focus on what happened, but the how, and most importantly WHY?
Season 2 specifically opens with the murder, and virtually every episode works backward, revealing another layer of what lead to that day in Miami. This is the biggest technical difference between the seasons, as season 1 unfolds in a strictly chronological way — which was how both events unfolded in real-time.
OJ’s trial was covered step by step as it happened. The country first learned of who Andrew was when he killed Versace. As a result, people had to work backward to uncover facts about his life.
A final point is that despite only occurring approximately three years apart, each season seems to inhabit its own universe. The People vs. OJ Simpson has the tone of a sharp courtroom drama. The Assassination of Gianni Versace mimics the atmosphere of a vintage, decadent, passionate thriller.
In several moments, Cunanan has the lifestyle and habits of a smooth talking, high-end escort. Think Richard Gere in American Gigolo. Not only is Cunanan a would-be hustler, but Andrew seems to prostitute his personality as well as his body. He tailors his interests, background, and personality to whomever he is trying to get something from.
Regardless of whether it is parents, friends, employers, whatever; Andrew seems to always be playing a character. The people of the OJ case became instant celebrities. While most of them took this with a grain of salt, Andrew would have dreamed about such notoriety.
But both American Crime Story series takes the viewer on a fascinating journey to uncover what made these crimes not just infamous, but uniquely American crimes.