The second season of Ryan Murphy’s anthology series on FX, American Crime Story: Versace ended this week. Out of Murphy’s complete TV canon, this show has been my favorite. Between Versace and first season’s The People vs. OJ Simpson, Murphy’s really shown his strength as a visionary producer. Both seasons were inspired and informed by true crime novels ( Vulgar Favors by Maureen Orth and The Run of His Life: The People vs. OJ Simpson by Jeffrey Toobin, respectively). Murphy choosing to jumpstart his seasons based on research and narratives created by an author is really intelligent. He knows exactly which authors share his character and drama-driven backbone.
Murphy himself doesn’t write on either season, but he’s directed 1/4th of both seasons, and entrusted the writing to seasoned screenwriters. The first season had a writing staff that included D.V. DeVincentis (High Fidelity) and Joe Robert Cole (Black Panther) and the second season was written solely by Tom Rob Smith (London Spy). It made sense to have a staff for the first season because each episode felt like a mini-movie. Having Smith write the entire second installment was an inspired move, because the story felt like a one complete film split into nine parts.
The third ingredient of Murphy’s secret sauce is casting. The casting of the series gave us Sterling K. Brown as Chris Darden (in OJ Simpson), an acting counterpoint to his role on This is Us. Judith Light stole the show as Marilyn Miglin (the widow of one of Cunnanan’s victims Lee Miglin) in Versace. Some of Murphy’s regular acting troupe members, such as Sarah Paulson and Darren Criss, have even gotten to flex their abilities in really unique and dramatically rooted performances.
Now that season two is done, which crime story should be next? Hurricane Katrina was supposed to be the topic of season 2, until it was pushed to season 3. While I trust that Murphy could find interesting things to say about how the government criminally bungled the recovery process, I just don’t know if that topic best serves the show’s strengths. It feels too broad and perhaps too costly to recreate the flooding.
ACS seems to best be served by tackling cases that drew a lot of sensationalized, sometimes caricatured, media attention with characters that seemed to pop on news channels while uncovering buried emotions and larger insights into society. While I’m excited by the idea of the fourth season of ACS covering the Clintons and Monica Lewinsky (especially with Lewinsky’s current turn as a champion of anti-cyber bullying and the #metoo movement), I have some suggestions on American crime stories that would be a better fit for the show than Katrina:
This story of the kidnapping and assault of the daughter of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst by the American terrorist organization the Symbionese Liberation Army seems like a no-brainer for the Ryan Murphy treatment. Not only is Hearst, who was found guilty of bank robbery with the Liberation Army, a fantastic character for any actress, but one with a pretty great, complex arc to play.
Potential Casting: Emma Watson or Emma Roberts as Patty Hearst
Book Inspiration: As if this story wasn’t already screaming for a ACS interpretation, a third of the work is done, because Jeffrey Toobin has already written a book about it. While the book was going to be the basis of a James Mangold biopic film, the plug has been pulled after Hearst herself criticized the book. Murphy has previously shown that ACS doesn’t need family approval.
I know in the past few years this story has been done to death (pun fully intended), but it seems like pure Murphy gold. Just imagine the story told from Ruth Madoff’s point of view with Judith Light as the wife herself. It’s such a strong dramatic group of players, think of all the casting options. The Madoff scandal also has the room for Murphy to make a larger statement about American greed.
Casting: It bears repeating, Judith Light as Ruth Madoff!
Book Inspiration: Betrayal by Andrew Kirtzman
This topic screams timely and there’s amazing source material in Dave Cullen’s book. Cullen’s book gives multiple character points of view, which aligns itself well with how ACS tells its tales. Sue Klebold, mother of one of the shooters, has come forward with a book of her own a few years ago, which talks about being the mother of a killer in a really honest and raw way. I feel like that’s a side of the story that would make a pretty incredible episode for Sarah Paulson to run away with. As for the larger discussion of gun control and school safety, this is the story through which to tell it.
Casting: Sarah Paulson as Sue Klebold, Lucas Hedges as Dylan Klebold, Tye Sheridan as Eric Harris
Book: Columbine by Dave Cullen
There is a movie with Zac Efron as Bundy himself, but that shouldn’t stop another viewpoint of this serial killer. Ann Rule, one of the master true crime writers, worked at a crisis center with Ted Bundy and wrote a gripping account of her complicated connection to the murderer. How interesting would that angle be?
Casting: Go with me on this one… Bill Hader as Ted Bundy
Book: The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule
Oklahoma City Bombing
Before 9/11, this was the largest terrorist attack on America and it was homegrown and executed by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. Besides the notoriety of this horrific event, there’s also a very messy, complicated FBI case to examine. McVeigh and Nichols, without sounding callous, are also intense acting challenges and there’s a ton of other people within this story that could provide interesting acting roles.
Casting: John Hawkes as Terry Nichols and Nicholas Holt as Timothy McVeigh
Book: American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing by Lou Michel and Dan Herbeck
Ok, perhaps this is too broad like Katrina, but we’ve already gotten a couple movies about this event and wouldn’t you want to know Ryan Murphy’s take on this moment in American history? Enough said.
Casting: totally depends on the take, but I’m sure Sarah Paulson could find a spot in there somewhere.
Book: I’d say The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright, but Hulu already beat me to that punch.
This role was already played by Al Pacino in the HBO film You Don’t Know Jack, but I think the Dr. Death and the start of a public discussion about death with dignity deserves a more in-depth TV treatment. It’s the kind of story Murphy likes to tell with ACS, where audiences initially think it’s a story about one central figure (like OJ or Versace) but it’s about many more people and the larger cultural discussions that surround that moment.
Casting: Richard Jenkins as Jack Kevorkian
Book: Death on Demand by Michael DeCesare
This story got the “meh” made for tv movie treatment really quickly after the event (it happened in 2002 and the movie was released in 2003). Now that it’s been some time since the attacks, it would be fascinating to see how Murphy might approach it for the show. It certainly would provide an interesting look at how the immediate threat of random violence can stroke fear into a large metropolitan area, as well as the hatred and evil adults can instill in children.
Casting: Even though Charles S. Dutton looks just like Police Chief Moose and played him in the TV movie, may I suggest Malcolm-Jamal Warner (who is part of Murphy’s squad after playing OJ’s friend Al Cowlings in the first season of ACS).
Book: The Making of Lee Boyd Malvo by Carmeta Albarus and Jonathan H. Mack
Maybe this story getting the Hollywood treatment is overkill. There’s already been a ton of TV movies and there’s about to be a Tarantino take on the murders. Also Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner, the creative duo behind American Psycho, are getting in on the Manson action with their film Charlie Says. Okay, maybe that’s enough for now… but just imagine how great the casting for a ACS: Manson would be, especially considering Murphy made such a great meal out of the topic of cults with last year’s American Horror Story: Cult.
Casting: Jared Leto as Mason
Book: Manson by Jeff Guinn
This topic might be my favorite. The CIA using LSD for mind control experiments that also involves Whitey Bulger, the Russians and Watergate. Seems like a slam dunk to me. There’s also a decent amount of mystery and conspiracy to the story which could lead Murphy to take his angle in some really creepy and sardonic directions. Also what a great way to discuss the American government’s Russia obsession and unchecked power.
Casting: Mark Feurstein as MKUltra test subject and famous author Ken Kesey
Book: The CIA Doctors by Colin A. Ross