You don’t get to see much horror on the small box, not unless you count the downward spiral that is Game Of Soaps. But this is about the genre of Horror and the remarkable show that put it firmly into TV land. American Horror Story is a unique event in television. Though there have been attempts at bringing horror themes to our living rooms, those usually happened under the guise of a different show. The X-Files, Millennium and The Twilight Zone probably came closest. There were mini-series like Masters of Horror. And you could always indulge in the popcorn sensibilities of Supernatural or True Blood. The Walking Dead and Penny Dreadful are both also worthy mentions. But only one show has embraced the genre like succubus crawling her way up your bed sheet…
American Horror Story is an anthology: every season is really a mini series and a new season brings an entirely new cast, story and location. Season 1 was based in a haunted house, season 2 took us to a mental asylum, season 3 was about witchcraft in a small town and season 4 will be set in a carnival. Each season takes careful note of the staples and cliches of its particular theme – and manages to use them all. Ultimately this is not a subtle exploration of horror as much as gorging yourself at the trough of terror. For example, season 1 is simply exploding with ghosts and poltergeists. Eventually it’s not certain who is or isn’t among the dearly departed. Season 2 has no problem doling out electro-shock treatment, demented doctors (played by the brilliant James Cromwell) and nasty experiment. Season 3 confirms every one of your dark thoughts around Puritan era New England witch hunts (though set in modern times).
The show stars a large cast, led by the mesmerizing Jessica Lange and joined by other quality actors like Zachary Quinto, Dylan McDermott and Sarah Paulson. As mentioned, each season is a stand-alone mini-series, with the same actors playing different roles in each. These vary: Dylan McDermott portrayed one of season 1’s main characters, but in season 2 took the backseat with a cameo role. In contrast Sarah Paulson was a supporting actor in S1, yet took on a major character for S2. The contrasts can be amazing, such as Frances Conroy’s S1 turn from a strange maid to the angel of death in S2. Not all the actors stay around and over the current three seasons many have come and gone. But this just adds to the allure of this show.
It should be said, though, that American Horror Story will not appeal to everyone. As mentioned it gorges more than nitpicks, so for some that can just become too much. You can also accuse the show for being convoluted – the seasons can be overly busy and seemingly complex. But at least it never drags its heels and while some seasons can become a bit messy, they never stop being entertaining. But if one season doesn’t entertain you, another season might. Above all, American Horror Story is unique. Horror has never gotten this level of respect on television and the show will go down in history as the moment the genre became truly relevant for TV audiences. But at the very least it is a refreshing change from just about anything else out there.
Last Updated: May 27, 2014