Fall is here, everyone! My favorite time of year! The brisk air and the crunchy leaves and the pumpkin everything. There is just nothing like it. Oh, and all the new fall television shows! Y’know, there’s that one comedy where the person says the funny thing. And that one that’s about murder and intrigue followed by the other one about … murder and intrigue.
ALRIGHT FINE. I’ll say it: I just don’t care for network TV. I know these shows are happening and they’re probably alright but there’s something in me that just always assumes these shows kinda suck. Give me your HBO! Your AMC and your FX! We can even throw IFC in there! I want a network where characters can say the word shit and we can see some sideboob or a buttcrack here or there! THAT’S where we can get quality television! I may be totally wrong, but that’s just what I feel. And I might be a TV snob for it. #sorrynotsorry
And since all of the other shows I watch religiously (Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Silicon Valley, Downton Abbey, Orange is the New Black) won’t be on until after 2014 is over, I have but one show to keep me going. (Other than The Newsroom, that is. And I guess since I watched the first two seasons, I’ll watch the last one? I mean, it’s on, right?) That show is television’s weird, creepy cousin, y’all: American Horror Story.
Ryan Murphy has tapped into that part of me that loves to indulge in life’s dark underbelly. The grotesque and macabre part that when someone asks you, “You wanna smell something weird?” goes, “… Yeah. Yeah I do.” And while this dark side loves to indulge in AHS’s disturbing embrace, the TV snob in me is screaming out for attention, “PLEASE! BUT, SOMEONE! LISTEN TO ME! … WHAT ARE THEY EVEN DOING?!”
Let’s give the snob a chance, alright?
American Horror Story as a production has a serious case of ADD. If you were to ask fans, chances are the first AHS season, Murder House, would not be an overwhelming favorite. Even though from start to finish it is the most cohesive AHS season, compared to the latter seasons it’s relatively tame in its content. But while we were juggling fifteen different storylines (something AHS is wont to do), at least they all had roots in one place. The Murder House itself was the element that contained all the storylines, so you could only go so far with the bat-shittiness. One could say the same for Asylum and Coven, but notice as the series continues how far outside of the common element the numerous storylines go.
Let’s examine Asylum first. So here we are, all contained in Briarcliff with all our lovely crazies. And what happens? Aliens. Angels. Devils. Nazis. Mutants in the woods. Anne Frank. FREAKING ANNE FRANK YOU GUYS. We already have so much going on with our nymphos and pinheads and superiority complexes, Ryan and Brad. Why the desire to cram so much into one season? It ends up feeling bloated and confusing.
And Coven, dear Coven. So much promise, so much potential. Here again, we have one setting trying to contain a gaggle of witches and all their power. But with great power comes a lot of sloppy world-building. How many times is one person supposed to be able to die? And how many times is one person supposed to be able to come back to life even?! The season begins with its focus on Zoe (played by the ehh actress Taissa Farmiga, who I guess just likes to do AHS every other year?) and by the end of the season, just kidding! It was Cordelia all along! Remember when it was Madison and then Misty and maybe Nan, but NOPE! It was Cordelia! Oh and HEY! You know what would be fun? Someone call Stevie Nicks! That’ll be a gas!
I like a plot twist. In fact, it’s pretty much my favorite cinematic experience when a show or movie can genuinely surprise me. But this had nothing to do with plot twists. This was Coven not knowing how to properly develop its story and characters. For as much as Asylum is bloated, Coven is moving at a hundred miles per hour in twenty different directions. We’re never sure how to keep track, and when it comes down to it, the season was remarkably unfulfilling. (With the exception of “knotty pine.” If Ms. Lange weren’t so fabulous, that whole finale would have been shit.)
Overall I think that AHS needs to cut about five episodes from each season. Each year it feels like they’re so unsure of where their characters should go that they aaalmost finish the season then drag the last few episodes as far out as they can stretch the show without snapping it. Really though, did Alma NEED to come back? Only to end up in Briarcliff herself, only to die? Did we really need Dylan McDermott to show up in a pseudo-cameo and harass old, successful Lana? Did we really need to waste three and half minutes on STEVIE NICKS SINGING?!
And sorry guys, the answer is no. They’re already touting AHS as a miniseries, so why not give it eight episodes instead of thirteen? Ryan can earn the other five episodes when they can prove to us that they don’t have to take a mile-wide jughandle around the story at hand to make the series watchable. Someone crush up an Adderall and put it in their cocktails.
And here we are with Freak Show. I’ve heard it’s a combination of Asylum and Coven in its dark campiness, which is quite a nice balance. But what else have I heard? Pepper is back. Jessica Lange’s character, Elsa Mars, sings a Lana Del Rey song.
My inner snob is SCREAMING.
How, Jesus, HOW can Pepper be back?! Sure, it’s fun because Pepper was super cool, but it just doesn’t work. At its core, AHS is fun because the same actors play different characters each season. I’m sorry, but you cannot bring a character from a different AHS world to mingle with the same actors in a new world. How can I look at Pepper hanging out with Elsa Mars without thinking that Elsa Mars is going to morph into Sister Jude and start beating Pepper with a stick? And Freak Show takes place in the 50s, so HOW IS SHE SINGING A SONG FROM A DIFFERENT CENTURY?!
American Horror Story is a great many things, but hate to break it to you, Ryan, it is simply not postmodern. We can move through different dimensions and bitches can stay alive for centuries and heads can talk because that’s all fantasy. Postmodernism, when it succeeds, is a very delicate balance of reality and metafiction. The word “delicate” is not something that our showrunners seem to consider when creating AHS characters and stories. (Except for maybe, “How can we play up Evan Peters’ delicate features?”) I applaud the show for being fearless in pretty much everything it does, but sometimes that fearlessness turns into recklessness, then recklessness turns to sloppiness. And then we have aliens impregnating a chick who had her uterus removed.
That said, I am willing to give Freak Show the benefit of the doubt because of all of the AHS seasons, this one seems to be the least supernatural. Instead of ghosts and aliens and witches, this season seems to be focusing on real people with real physical abnormalities. So this might be the one that can kindasortaalmostmaybe get away with some postmodern tendencies. Fingers crossed, anyway.
I think what my inner snob is most upset about is that American Horror Story has the potential to be really great, and yet it consistently falls short. There’s a reason the show gets nominated for Emmy’s and only its cast wins. It succeeds at writing some very compelling dialogue for very some fabulous of-a-certain-age actresses, but the larger production seems to focus more on visuals (shots, sets, costumes) than the actual story. And without a solid story, each respective season becomes disjointed and messy. If only that Adderall went to Ryan’s head already. If only he would focus on finding and maintaining that delicate balance of weird but cohesive. I would love to see what this show would be like should it be elevated to prestige status.
Okay, the snob is done now. The fan of AHS? THE FAN IS SO SUPER PUMPED ABOUT THIS SHOW! The inherent creepiness of a carnival freak show can take it to so many places! I can’t wait to see Jessica and Sarah and Kathy and Angela and Frances be the bad ass bitches they always are! I’m mourning no Lily Rabe but HAVE YOU SEEN Evan Peters’ lobster hands?! Could they give him a more arousing abnormality?! (I mean… yeah, but, just ssh.) And Twisty! OH Twisty the terrifying clown! Bring on the coulrophobia!
So here’s to seeing if the snob in me and the fan in me can love the same series! I at least trust Ryan to deliver an hour of deliciously disturbing entertainment every week, even if my snob disapproves.
If Mad Men is the filet mignon of television, American Horror Story is a big, juicy double bacon cheese burger. And rather than watch the PB and J that is network television, I’m sitting here watching the string cheese: Wheel of Fortune. Sure, it’s not that satisfying, but it’s holding me over until my big meal on Wednesday night. As I’m writing this, a puzzle in the category of “phrase” just came on Wheel. And I shit you not, the answer to the puzzle was “I promise you won’t be disappointed.” I’m taking that as a sign.