The John Wayne Gacy Streaming Series Cast Its Serial Killer, And The Actor's Comments About The Victims Are More Touching Than I Expected

 Tom wearing scrubs and smiling in Dead Ringers.
Credit: Prime Video

It’s no hidden mystery that the true crime genre exploded in the streaming era, with a vast abundance of docuseries, specials and dramatizations produced in the past decade. Peacock has lots of shows for true crime fans covering the Zodiac Killer and other high-profile unsolved murders, Casey Anthony, and more. The streaming service is currently adapting its own project for the upcoming limited drama series Devil in Disguise: John Wayne Gacy, and has cast Dead Ringers and Severence’s Michael Chernus in the titular role.

Chernus, who is no stranger to taking on supporting roles in plenty of dark and deadly projects, will soon enjoy what is possibly his most high-profile role to date — sorry, Spider-Man: Homecoming’s Tinkerer. But with his statement that followed the casting news, the actor made a point to honor the notorious killer’s victims in a way that shed light on what the show will be about, and also in a way that makes it sound like this show will try to avoid the negative backlashes that followed Netflix’s hugely popular series Dahmer and Baby Reindeer. In his words:

I’m both excited and humbled by this opportunity. The direction that the writers are taking with this project is important, focusing on the victims and their families as well as those who finally brought John Wayne Gacy to justice. While Gacy was the perpetrator of these horrific crimes, I’m relieved that he won’t be the main focus of the series. It’s heartbreaking for me to think of what his victims (all young men and boys) could have done with their lives had the system not failed them so tragically. I believe in the power of storytelling and hope that by telling this story, in a thoughtful way, we can play some part in preventing this from ever happening again.

First and foremost, it's extremely interesting and telling that Peacock's second big John Wayne Gacy project (following its Gacy-centered season of its Devils in Disguise docuseries) will seemingly pull its main focus away from the killer and occasional birthday clown, given that archived interviews with Gacy himself were such a key part of the previous project. But the reasoning here is sound.

Any time a project like this unearths decades-old crimes, either for scripted or unscripted purposes, it inevitably brings a new wave of attention to not just the crimes and the victims, but also their family members and friends. While the Dahmer season of Ryan Murphy's Monster anthology was wildly successful and garnered awards for Niecy Nash-Betts and more, the mother of one of Jeffrey Dahmer's victims was sickened by the idea of Peters winning a Golden Globe for the role. A friend of one victim called Netflix out for making a cash grab, while a surviving victim's lawyer spoke about how harrowing the experience was for their client, with many of these long-dormant wounds being freshly opened with new projects.

While Baby Reindeer's backstory for creator Richard Gadd didn't involve any serial killings or mass murders, Netflix execs and the projects' producers have been called out for not changing and editorializing enough information to distance the fictional representations from their real-world counterparts, which led to internet sleuths making wrongful accusations online. A woman named Fiona Harvey went public claiming to be who Jessica Gunning's Martha is based on, but accused Gadd and Netflix of changing and hyperbolizing what happened, and is now suing the service for defamation, negligence and privacy violations.

John Wayne Gacy being interviewed in footage from John Wayne Gacy: Devil in Disguise.
John Wayne Gacy being interviewed in footage from John Wayne Gacy: Devil in Disguise.

Which is all to say that Peacock may be taking the smart road if it does indeed figure out a way to tell John Wayne Gacy's story in a way that doesn't glorify the killer himself, and also doesn't cause further emotional turmoil for anyone whose lives were affected by his vicious crimes throughout the 1970s. Granted, Gacy is one of the most oft-covered American serial killers, so this is probably normal for all involved, but still.

For all the dour notes here, landing such an offbeat role should be a great way for Michael Chernus to show off his acting chops. Fans are currently itching to see him again when Apple TV+'s Severence Season 2 finally premieres, as his character seems to be quite an important connection within that world. He also co-starred in this year's adapatation of Sharon M. Draper's coming-of-age drama Out of My Mind, which debuted at Sundance in January, with premiere coming later for those with Disney+ subscriptions.

Devil in Disguise: John Wayne Gacy doesn't have a release date set yet, bt those with Peacock subscriptions can check out the docuseries in the meantime.