American Horror Story
TV Series Review
Horror stories are made to engage your whole body. They make the hairs on the back of your neck perk up. They force you to wince or close your eyes. They trigger grimaces and gags.
FX's American Horror Story might make you laugh ... and cry, vomit, twitch and run maniacally from the living room.
The show's title is about two-thirds right. American Horror Story is American. And it is horror-ble. But the story part? Well, let's just say that any sort of understandable plot or narrative is now lying in state and unlikely to haunt this series anytime soon.
The rest of the dead—that's another matter.
FX's wacky freak-out show retains the same vibe and some of its players from season to season, but everything else changes. From a family dealing with a house full of ghosts to a coven of New Orleans witches grasping for power, each season has its own nightmares. In Season Four (subtitled Freak Show), we're taken to a struggling carnival filled with oddments: psychopathic performers, a hermaphrodite with three breasts, and a woman with two heads who demonstrates a shockingly disturbing case of sibling rivalry. Lurking outside is the most unfunny clown ever. It's perhaps the darkest, craziest, most salacious chapter yet, something co-creator Ryan Murphy seems proud of.
"There's a reason for where that phrase comes from, 'Get your freak on,'" he tells Entertainment Weekly. "I love juxtaposing the freethinking, non-judgmental carnie folks with the Mamie Eisenhower housewives. The carny folk got it right in many ways. It is sexier this year and more graphic sexually than any of the seasons."
While often hailed by critics and perennially nominated for Emmys, American Horror Story is flat-out, over-the-top, take-no-prisoners weird—perfect fodder for the snarky riff-meisters on the dearly departed Mystery Science Theater 3000. Or it would be if Tom Servo and Crow could manage to crack jokes between the gasps of horror and disgust they'd surely utter. There's more sex and gore per scene here than you'll see this side of, well, pert near anything—on TV or at the movies.
Slate's Troy Patterson calls the show "deliberately unhinged" and "a showcase for scenery chewing and giddy blasphemy, an exploitation chamber piece." Had Edgar Allan Poe seen the script for just one of these episodes, he would've laughed himself silly ... then buried the whole mess under the floorboards while glancing furtively over his shoulder. Not that we'd expect much sanity from Murphy, the mind behind the despicably gregarious Nip/Tuck and the creator of Fox's very different but still implausible and rampantly problematic Glee.
When interviewed for New York magazine, Murphy defended his nightmare by saying the show's spooky-sexual ethos was cribbed from Dark Shadows, ABC's supernatural daytime soap from the 1970s.
"My grandmother used to force me to watch Dark Shadows," he said. "Even when I was sobbing, she made me watch, to toughen me up."
Now Murphy's grandmother's lack of entertainment discernment has come back to haunt us all. Where was Plugged In in 1971 anyway?
"There is nothing—repeat, nothing—subtle about this series," writes salon.com's Matt Zoller Seitz. "It's a jumble of pathology and mayhem—horror for the YouTube generation. ... If it were possible to take a classic early '60s camp horror movie, feed it massive amounts of cocaine, then turn it into a basic cable drama, the result might look like this."
It's a slow episode that doesn't feature some sort of murder, mutilation or scene of torture before every commercial break, most featuring R-level blood and gore. And when the violence wanes, it's often replaced with sexual deviancy and enough anti-religious, often blasphemous messages to make marble statues openly weep.
Morality? That's about the only thing truly dead and buried in American Horror Story.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
(Season One) Dylan McDermott as Ben Harmon; Connie Britton as Vivien Harmon; Taissa Farmiga as Violet Harmon; Evan Peters as Tate Langdon; Jessica Lange as Constance; Denis O'Hare as Larry Harvey; (Season Two) Zachary Quinto as Dr. Oliver Thredson; Joseph Fiennes as Monsignor Timothy Howard; Sarah Paulson as Lana Winters; Evan Peters as Kit Walker; Lily Rabe as Sister Mary Eunice; Lizzie Brocheré as Grace; James Cromwell as Dr. Arthur Arden; Jessica Lange as Sister Jude; (Season Three) Evan Peters as Kit Walker; Jessica Lange as Fiona Goode; Lily Rabe as Misty Day; Frances Conroy as Myrtle Snow; Sarah Paulson as Cordelia Foxx; Taissa Farmiga as Zoe Benson; Denis O'Hare as Spalding; Emma Roberts as Madison Montgomery; Kathy Bates as Madame Delphine LaLaurie; (Season Four) Sarah Paulson as Bette and Dot Tattler; Evan Peters as Jimmy Darling; Michael Chiklis as Dell Toledo; Frances Conroy as Gloria Mott; Denis O'Hare as Stanley; Emma Roberts as Maggie Esmerelda; Finn Wittrock as Dandy Mott; Angela Bassett as Desiree Dupree; Kathy Bates as Ethel Darling; Jessica Lange as Elsa Mars