Arts & Culture » Television

'Versace' finale was full of darkness

by Victoria A. Brownworth

Ricky Martin as Versace's longtime partner Antonio D'Amico in "American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace." Photo: FX
Ricky Martin as Versace's longtime partner Antonio D'Amico in "American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace." Photo: FX  

If you're reading this, Trump hasn't blown up the planet. Yet. But the Doomsday Clock jumped ahead when Trump fired H.R. McMaster and nominated John Bolton for National Security Advisor. It took three tries, but Trump finally found the scariest guy in Washington for his NSA. We had a frisson of fear just thinking about the role Bolton played in the Bush/Cheney warmongering administration (remember them?) and how much he'd like to get his hands on the Iran Deal or get up close with North Korea.

Bolton's own words bolstered that fear, like this classic imperialist diktat: "Diplomacy is not an end in itself if it does not advance U.S. interests."

More alarming still: "If Iran obtains nuclear weapons, then almost certainly Saudi Arabia will do the same, as will Egypt, Turkey, and perhaps others in the region."
Bolton pal Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) asserted on Twitter, "With the pick of Mike Pompeo to lead the State Department, and now the pick of John Bolton to lead NSC, trust me when I say the last 8 days have not been good ones for Venezuela dictator Nicolas Maduro." Venezuela, too?

So it's a veritable smorgasbord for Bolton as he figures out what country he'd like to invade first. All he'll have to do is write it on an index card for Trump with the words "DO NOT INVADE," and he can make it happen. The National Security Advisor does not have to be confirmed by the Senate, so Bolton begins work on April 9.

In this latest shuffling of the deck chairs on the Trumptanic, Bolton may yet be stopped by his connections to Cambridge Analytica, revealed by gay whistleblower Christopher Wylie. When we saw Wylie interviewed by Don Lemon on CNN we thought, "Wouldn't it be great if 'The Gays' were the ones to take down Trump?

Whenever things get dicey in the White House, Fox News ramps up its attacks on Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and other random Democrats. Trump's favorite Fox News host, Sean Hannity, went after Sen. Kamala Harris during the omnibus budget bill debate on March 22, calling her "unhinged" for her demands to add a new DACA plan to the bill, and for calling out the GOP leadership for not protecting DACA recipients from deportations.

Others think it's Fox News that's unhinged. At the Financial Times Future of News symposium on March 23, CNN President Jeff Zucker said Fox News "is really state-run TV, it is a pure propaganda machine, and does an incredible disservice to this country."

Zucker said the network has undergone "shocking" change post-Roger Ailes, then compared the conservative network to Russian propaganda. "It has just turned itself over to state-run TV, and TASS has nothing on them." He's not wrong.

Yet Trump still has his loyal fan base, and among those is Roseanne Barr, whose re-boot of her iconic comedy series "Roseanne" debuted March 27 on ABC. Roseanne had a testy exchange with Jimmy Kimmel over Trump on his March 22 show. Kimmel asked her about what had happened between her and the Clintons, with whom she used to be friendly, to send her into the white supremacist arms of Trump.

Kimmel asked why Roseanne became so "down" on Hillary, and noted the comedienne had even accused Hillary of being a murderer on Twitter, "Didn't you?"

"I did not!" Roseanne yelled, adding an expletive. Then said, "I deleted it! I had some disagreement with her foreign policy."

John Goodman, who was on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" with Roseanne, and co-stars with her on the sitcom, added a snarky aside, "Because she had one."

Roseanne asked Kimmel, who had Hillary on his show as a guest several times during the election, if he supported her candidacy, to which Kimmel said, as so many of us have, "Never mind her! How about the Capt. Wacko we've got running the country here?!"

Roseanne asserted, in a "Sunset Boulevard" moment, that it wasn't her who had changed, but everyone else. "You all moved - you all went so fuckin' far out you lost everyone."

Then came the classic Trump-supporter lecture about how we shouldn't want Trump to fail. "We don't want Pence. You want Pence for the frickin' President? Well then, zip that fuckin' lip!" she yelled at Kimmel.

Roseanne told Kimmel one of her daughters began crying on Election Night, saying, "This is the end. They're going to deport all of our gays!"

Roseanne said she told her, "Just chill. Just chill. It's up to us to make this government work, no matter who is president. If you don't like it, you've got another election in two years, and get out and vote. Change it if you don't like it."

We don't like it. And we don't like how glib Roseanne is about Trump, either. She plays a Trump supporter on the new sitcom as well.

Idol talk

Speaking of ABC re-boots, "American Idol" made a comeback after ending its 15-season run on Fox. But without Simon Cowell, it's just not much of a show. Katie Perry is doing her best to carry it, but Lionel Richie seems wildly out of place, and country star Luke Bryan feels like he's on the wrong show. There was a totally creepy scene on the two-hour debut where Perry gave a young contestant his first kiss while her hit "I Kissed a Girl" played. What kind of message was that, given Perry is 33?

There are still stellar young voices on "American Idol," but we saw nothing exciting that made us want to keep watching, and a lot that made cringe. When you can watch "The Voice," why would you watch "American Idol?" Perry's presence isn't reason enough.

Conversely, Kelly Clarkson is a fabulous new addition to the judging line-up on "The Voice." The inaugural winner of "American Idol" in 2002 at only 19 is the most award-winning judge on "The Voice" panel, and she is marvelous. Energetic, sings spontaneously, fights with Adam Levine, bonds with Alicia Keys and Blake Shelton - what more could we want? "American Idol" might have started the singing contest series, but its day has past. Long live "The Voice," and viva La Clarkson.

And viva Ryan Murphy, who has just been signed by Netflix for two new series. "Ryan Murphy's series have influenced the global cultural Zeitgeist, reinvented genres and changed the course of television history. His unfaltering dedication to excellence and to give voice to the underrepresented, to showcase a unique perspective or just to shock the hell out of us, permeates his genre-shattering work," said Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer at Netflix. "From 'Nip/Tuck,' our first licensed series, to 'American Crime Story: The People v. O.J, Simpson' and 'American Horror Story,' we've seen how his brand of storytelling captivates consumers and critics across the globe. His celebrated body of work and his contributions to our industry speak for themselves, and we look forward to supporting Ryan in bringing his broad and diverse stories to the world."

For his part, Murphy was humbled. "The history of this moment is not lost on me," said Murphy. "I am a gay kid from Indiana who moved to Hollywood in 1989 with $55 dollars in savings in my pocket, so the fact that my dreams have crystallized and come true in such a major way is emotional and overwhelming to me. I am awash in genuine appreciation for Ted Sarandos, Reed Hastings and Cindy Holland at Netflix for believing in me and the future of my company, which will continue to champion women, minorities and LGBTQ heroes and heroines, and I am honored and grateful to continue my partnership with my friends and peers at Fox on our existing shows."

$300 million is a lot of believing. Netflix will generate Murphy's next two shows, "Ratched" and "The Politician." The multi-million deal kicks in July 1.

The big Netflix signing came just as two of Ryan Murphy's most recent shows had their season finales March 21. We were totally immersed in both "9-1-1" on Fox, and "American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace" on FX. "9-1-1" was supposed to be just a "let's try this on" midseason replacement show, filling in for Fox's mega-hit "Empire" while it was on hiatus ("Empire" came back with a gay bang on March 28).

But "9-1-1," starring two of Murphy's favorite female leads, Angela Bassett and Connie Britton, took off. The combination of dramatic, edgy, emotional stories and stellar acting propelled the show into first-place ratings in its time slot.

We liked the two parallel queer storylines. Bassett's character, LAPD sergeant Athena Grant, is going through the dissolution of her longtime marriage because husband Michael (Rockmund Dunbar) has told her and their two kids that he's gay. Athena's bestie, Henrietta Wilson (Aisha Hinds), is going through her own complicated drama. She and her wife Karen (Tracie Thoms) are having issues. Karen complains about "lesbian bed death," and then Henrietta hooks up with her newly-released-from-prison ex. who then files for custody of their child, claiming that Henrietta has an unstable home. Real stories of real gay and lesbian people. "9-1-1" was just renewed for a second season.

It was even harder to let go of "ACS: Versace." The finale was extraordinary, full of pathos, yearning and darkness. We'll say again, Darren Criss deserves all the awards for his tour de force performance as serial killer Andrew Cunanan. The range of his portrayal is sheer magnificence, particularly in the gutting last two episodes, where Cunanan's relationship with his fabulist father is revealed, as are his final days trapped on a houseboat eating dog food until he takes his own life. Matt Bomer made his directorial debut with episode eight, which details Cunanan's relationship with his sexually abusive and emotionally suffocating father.

Judith Light's performance as Marilyn Miglin, widow of Cunanan's real estate tycoon victim Lee Miglin, was one of several standout performances by guest stars. The Tony- and Emmy-winning actress took what was a small role and turned it into a template: Her Marilyn Miglin was every woman ever married to a closeted gay man, and through her performance we see the turmoil created by internalized homophobia. She adored her husband. Discovering his sexual orientation in the way she did, through his grisly murder, shattered her world, but she kept it together. Marilyn Miglin provides the coda in the finale.

Other riveting performances include Edgar Ramirez' Versace, a warm, unprepossessing man with few pretensions, given his fame and wealth. He was always the boy from Calabria, his mother's son, cutting out patterns in their dining room. Ramirez' Versace gave voice to the gay 80s and 90s, the complexity of coming out famous and also living with HIV. It was an understated performance that was pitch-perfect and made us love Versace right from the intense opening scene in the first episode to the very end.

Ricky Martin as Versace's longtime partner Antonio D'Amico felt real and deeply emotional. Martin played D'Amico as the sexy, younger lover of Versace who was nevertheless devoted to the designer. Martin would bring other men home for threesomes that Versace appeared to engage in reluctantly until he finally said no more. Then D'Amico said he would give up all other men because his love for Versace came first.

All of which made the way Donatella (Penelope Cruz) cut D'Amico off both personally and financially after Versace's murder particularly cruel. When the priest at Versace's funeral never mentions D'Amico, his pain is palpable. His suicide attempt in the final episode is searing.

Every scene in this lush, rococo tale of a murdering fabulist and his victims is visually sumptuous, whether set indoors or out. The Miami sky is always on the verge of storming by day, while the skyline by night is supersaturated color and incredibly alluring.

"ACS: Versace" was Murphy's least-watched series, which is hard to fathom. So if you were one of the many who never saw it, binge all nine episodes over a long weekend. It will leave you aching.

Aching was how we felt after watching the debut of "Rise" on NBC. We're so grateful for stories that depict gay kids and trans kids finding their way while being supported by their peers. Ellie Desautels, who identifies as non-binary, plays trans teen Michael Hallowell. When Michael begins using the boy's locker room the immediate acceptance made us tear up for them.

The scenes between ultra-religious Simon Saunders (Ted Sutherland) and Jeremy Travers (Sean Grandillo) as they begin to fall in love are heartbreakingly real. Simon's parents are poised to wreck their son's life.

"Mary Kills People" is back for a second season on Lifetime. The edgy drama about euthanasia is highlighting Mary's lesbian daughter this season. Her budding romance with a classmate is sweet and believable and not without conflict.

But it's hard not to watch these scenes of teens in love and not have a sense of loss, too. We're so grateful LGBTQ teens are getting to have these images of themselves on the tube. But oh, does it make us ache for our 16-year-old self, expelled from high school for being a lesbian and tossed into a psychiatric ward for conversion therapy. Homophobia cheats us of living our best lives. TV series by gay and lesbian showrunners are making that statement over and over again for audiences.

Finally, the must-see TV event on NBC April 1, Easter Sunday, is a live version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's extraordinary "Jesus Christ, Superstar," and we cannot wait. John Legend as Christ is going to send white Trump evangelicals into a spin. Alice Cooper plays Herod. Sara Bareillis plays Mary Magdalene. The incomparable Ben Daniels is Pontius Pilate. It will be spectacular.

So for gay heartbreak and young love, for Trump's latest outrages and for just a little bit of heaven, you really must stay tuned.

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