I have a rocky relationship with American Horror Story. So, as the mysterious new story gears up for its debut, allow me to recount my generalized thoughts on the past five seasons. The good, the bad, the Jessica Lange.
Season One – Murder House
The first season is arguably the best, right? We didn’t know what to expect as an audience; and, truth be told, neither did the creators. It was a simple enough landscape—a haunted/demonized house—but Ryan Murphy & co. pushed boundaries with gore, sexuality, insensitivity, and overall weirdness—and it worked (for the most part).
In Murder House, we were reminded just how wonderful Jessica Lange is as an actress. Evan Peters and Taissa Farmiga were eccentrically adorable as a pair of ill-fated lovers. And to this day, I still call Peters Tate, no matter the season and/or show.
If you’ve been following our website/social accounts for a while, you may or may not know that I did have one very big issue with Murder House—but it’s not the show’s fault at all. See, at the time, I was seven-ish months pregnant, and … well, there was a lot of unsettling baby stuff. From Connie Britton’s backstory of losing her child (at 7 months) to getting pregnant again with demon seed. So, you know—it was weird.
Season Two – Asylum
The great thing about American Horror Story as an anthology show is this: if you’re not super crazy about a season, you can easily quit. You can just pick up with it the next go round. So, we enacted that choice here and only watched 2-3 episodes—because we just weren’t that into Asylum.
Gasp! But it’s the best season! Trust me, I’ve heard this many times before.
Early on, I could tell the visuals were nifty. Even though my Asylum time was brief, I do recall one freaky shot of a semi-possessed Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) making a crucifix slap against a wall. And, really, this was where Rabe was poised to really shine as an actress.
From the get-go, the setting didn’t spark an immediate interest – mental institution has been done across so many genres. There’s not a ton to add, yeah?
So… why did we stop watching? There was just too. fucking. much. going on. So much in fact that I found myself not caring about any of the characters. The eerie old hospital. Sadist Dr. Arden. Demonic possession. And, from what I hear, alien abduction?
It’s possible we’ll return one of these days. But not any time soon. Sorry, Asylum diehards.
Season Three – Coven
Remember when I said (just now) that Asylum’s initial premise didn’t even interest me? Well, the exact opposite can be said for Coven. Witches, man. Voodoo witches vs. Salem-style witches. That’s a stellar foundation right there.
The motherfucking plot. I am all about a good witch story—so, a semi-school for witches who are playing with their very different powers forming a quasi-team? PLUS, the competition/mystery surrounding the identity of the new Supreme? AND the impending voodoo witch war?!
Then there are the new cast editions: Kathy Bates (an all-time favorite of mine), Angela Bassett (who does not age), Emma Roberts (who I am convinced is a beautiful bitch in real life), and Gabourey Sidibe playing a powerful descendent of Tituba.
And comedy—let’s not forget that this is considered a bit lighter than most of the broody, bloody-soaked AHS seasons.
For as much fun as most of Coven actually was, the wrap-up was extremely lackluster and disappointing (a trademark of Ryan Murphy & co. television). The season was building to something, right? The witch battle? The witch hunters? The Supreme competition? Well, they rushed through the first two conflicts and went with the latter. Not my choice, but what can you do?
Season Four – Freak Show
I may have skipped Asylum, but I stuck around for all of Freak Show. Why? I don’t know, man. I ask myself this question, too.
Hm. Let’s see. Overall, the characters were pretty pleasing to watch and get to know.
I rooted for Kathy Bates and her wonderfully awful (Baltimore) accent. Evan Peters was kind of interesting as the lobster claw dude, Jimmy. Finn Wittrock was brilliant as the (American) psycho, Dandy Mott. And Pepper’s depressing one-shot episode actually made me want to revisit Asylum (if only briefly).
For most of the AHS seasons, you get a sense of direction in the storytelling. For Freak Show, not so much. I never saw an obvious endgame for any of the characters—and maybe that’s why I continued watching? Hoping to see some semblance of appropriate resolution? Nope, never happened.
But my absolute biggest complaint of Freak Show was Jessica Lange’s Elsa Mars. She’s our leading lady—our sympathetic diva with a dark past and a heart of gold. The problem? She just did too many unlikable, shitty things, and as a result, I never cared about her. This is a shame because I even liked Lange’s HBIC Fiona from Coven. (And she did a lot of unforgiving things, too)
Season Five – Hotel
What a weird trip this was. And I think I’m OK with that.
The goddamn visuals. Hotel Cortez was a masterpiece of a set. It was weird, lovely, and felt like one big dream sequence (or nightmare).
Speaking of dreamy things, I could watch Lady Gaga as the vampy Countess all day. As an actress, she’s perfectly fine. But as someone to watch and look at, she’s stunning in every way. The clothes, the make-up/hair, the movement, the sex, the blood. The Countess’ composition was near perfect.
Both Denis O’Hare and Sarah Paulson, as Liz Taylor and Sally McKenna respectively, pulled off eccentric characters in delightful ways. Liz was possibly the most genuinely likeable characters in AHS history; and although she was a drugged-out lunatic with ever-weepy eyes, you still kind of loved Sally.
The Serial Killer Dinner. This was so very wrong, but also totally kind of fun. I mean, it was a true-crime crossover event.
And finally, all those connections! Freak Show dabbled quite a bit, but Hotel also brought us back to past seasons, proving (again) that everything is connected in his horrific universe. Special season cameos included psychic Billie (Sarah Paulson in a dual role), Dr. Montgomery and realtor Marcy (Murder House), and the (spoiler) death of Sidibe’s Queenie (Coven).
The Detective John Lowe (Wes Bentley) side story. When we’re in the Hotel, I was all in. But John’s story was all too trope-y and dull. Cough, cough… he was a recovering alcoholic. Cough, cough… martial problems (with Chloe Sevigny) after losing a child. And this was shame because his story was often the driver for the plot. So, you know—it was a rather big component.
Season Six – ?
And there we are. It’s been a mixed bag. A wild ride. And season six is about to take-off. The mysterious marketing for the big question mark season is working my curiosity. The Lost Colony? Charles Manson?
The signs say no, but I’m still hoping for American Horror Story: Academy.
And, then there’s this theory (which I kind of dig)…