Ladies and gents, it’s officially American Horror Story season. Before you go any further, this is not just another show recap. As my editor would agree, I’m much too scatterbrained to devote time to one consistent thing each week, so I figured I would take a different approach to American Horror Story (which will now be referred to as AHS from here on out). We will journey through a brief look into each season, followed by a lovely tie-in that will hopefully convince a few more people to get into the zany world of AHS.
The unique aspect of AHS that draws millions of viewers each week (and even more on streaming services such as Netflix) is how Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk incorporate a brand new cult-classic-esque horror story in each individual season. The grand majority of television shows these days have an overarching story or theme that persists from seasons to season. Mad Men is a time-piece concerning the ever-changing advertising world of Madison Avenue, while Breaking Bad deals with the consequences of one man failing to admit his hubris and letting money control his world. American Horror Story, on the other hand, spins a brand new story each and every season. I get the feeling that the writers were wanting to give off a campfire feeling. The fun of campfire stories is that there are so many good stories that are told, and the same can be said with AHS. A good story goes through the Shakespearean Five Act Structure, and the Murphy/Falchuk story slides through the structure almost seamlessly through each season.
As of now, there are four seasons of AHS, the fourth of which is currently being aired, and a fifth season has already been picked up, according to The Hollywood Reporter. That being said, it seems that there are endless ways that the writers could go with the next season, and we are only two episodes deep into season four. One of the great things about this set-up is that the writers are not constrained to one particular story throughout the seasons, as they can start at the drawing board each year with many of the same actors. I will wade through each season in hopes of shedding some further light on my previous claims.
Season One is colloquially known as “Murder House.” When it was released, not many people knew what to expect. Up until this point, there had not really been a successful, adult, scary show, outside of some thrillers like The X-Files. While I did not watch AHS until season two, I, hadheard about this creepy, risqué show from many friends and websites alike. Borderline-rape scenes, fetuses in jars, and ghosts – what more could one desire in a television show? Well, that’s FX for you. The network has been notorious for shows that have skirted the line between TV-MA and premium shows, and along with additions such as Archer and The League, AHS fits right in.
The story focuses on the Harmon family, a genuinely disturbed family, who moved into a famous house where countless murders had occurred since its construction. The husband is a psychiatrist, the daughter is an angsty mess, and the wife is dealing with an adulterous husband; what else could go wrong in this family? Well, with neighbors and ghosts showing up willy-nilly, their life goes from drama to horror in no-time. This is perhaps my favorite season, as there is a major plot twist that threw many for a loop. That, and we were able to ogle Connie Britton for twelve episodes. On a more serious note, we saw Jessica Lange and Evan Peters perform some of the best acting we have ever seen. Seriously, go check out this show if you love good acting.
If I could give a tie to any other season for my favorite season, it would be season two. Maybe I’m just a fan of creepy insane asylum settings like Shutter Island, but this was genuinely the most frightening piece of work I’ve had the pleasure of viewing on television. Jessica Lange and Evan Peters, once more, displayed acting prominence as they took the mantle of completely new characters and were able to play so well off of each other. It was such a pleasure seeing some of the same actors from season one pop up on screen as new characters. I think many people were surprised with the direction Falchuk and Murphy took with this odd way of telling horror stories. Even now, people are trying to connect the four current seasons together in some giant conspiracy theory. “There has to be SOME method to their madness,” I imagine many tin-foil-hat fans continue to say to this day. While that may be true, I think the writers like to put easter eggs in each season to appease its long-time fans. Are you interested in The Exorcist-like stories? What about some serial killer action? Oh? What’s that? You ALSO have a weird thing for aliens? Look no further. American Horror Story: Asylum had it all, and it remains one of my favorite stories told on television.
Now, this is where things started to get a tad derailed. This season took a lot of flak for just being different. On the surface, there did not seem to be many scary or horrific items the writers had placed on the menu for the third season, and that tended to upset people (read: me). After several episodes, I snapped out of my funk, and I continued to enjoy AHS for what it was; a storytelling device. A story does not have to be filled with bumps in the night to be considered scary. The show hit on some major gender and race issues faced today, and it did so by playing a three-way war between witches, witch-hunters, and Vodouisants (followers of voodoo) in the already culturally-rich city of New Orleans, Louisiana. In hindsight, I really did enjoy the peculiar story that was Coven, and I’d urge wary viewers to push through the first several episodes. I walked away from that third season with a newfound respect for the writers, as they made me enjoy a story that I normally would have steered far away from.
With only two episodes aired, and the third one airing tonight, how in the world could I possibly discuss the newest season of AHS? O ye of little faith, I will try my best. I’ve been eagerly awaiting this season for the past few months, but I did not know what to expect waltzing into S4E1. Would it be bone-chilling? Would it be a “less scary” season, the way many people thought Coven was portrayed? While the overall story is yet to be seen by the vast majority of people, I think we can start to piece together an idea of what the season will look like. Yes, there was an odd musical display towards the end of S4E1. Yes, there were some odd sexual scenes viewers had to squirm through. However, our favorite clown seems to be the fun and frightening part of the season. We’ve already seen Twisty the Clown go on some homicidal rampages around the town of Jupiter, Florida, and I can only imagine what else the writers have in store for the balloon-blower. But on a deeper level, we see society, and perhaps Jessica Lange’s character, as the scariest parts of all. While I don’t think Falchuk and Murphy are trying to state some piece of social commentary, it’s scary to look at the way society treats these society-deemed “freaks.” We’ll most certainly see many more bloody corpses and music numbers, but until the next few episodes, we won’t really know how this season is going to turn out. My thoughts? I think Falchuk and Murphy have some crazy twists they’re ready to throw at viewers this next week. Only time will tell.
In hindsight, I’m wondering why there have not been many other (if any) shows that have successfully pulled off this style of storytelling. My initial thought is that there must have been some sort of fear of failure. The American Horror Story crew has made one push towards unusual storytelling, and I certainly hope the trend continues. Be sure to tune in to FX tonight at 10PM EST to check out the newest episode of American Horror Story: Freakshow, and I hope you enjoy your haunting!