American Horror Stories

1 out of 5

Created by: Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck

covers season 1

Yeah, I recognize I should’ve known better. While I’ve admittedly enjoyed some of the variants of the Murphy / Falchuck lowest-common-denominator sensationalism, I did not like American Horror Story, and especially more and more as it went on. (I made it about partway through season 4, then would get suckered to sample subsequent seasons based on reviews or friends’ urgings.) Some valid visuals and story concepts, married to a Hot Topic-style presentation, anted-up by meme culture and embrasure of graphic violence ushered in by the popularity of Walking Dead. I’ve sat here, trying to draw a line I can textually represent between a “good” Murphy / Falchuck show and a “bad” one, but not only is it obviously subjective – AHS and other series I haven’t liked have certainly been popular, and can, I’m sure, be intelligently defended if need be – it’s also proving to be inconsistent even in regards to my own opinion; that is, there are other pieces of media that might take a similar approach that I like, and other M / F takes that are essentially the same but I have fun with one and not the other, and so… I’m left to wonder if I’m just an old fuddy-duddy, and the shows that maybe skew younger tend not to be to my tastes.

I suppose, when it came to American Horror Stories, I hoped that those singular elements I appreciated from AHS – some visuals; some ideas – would hold up when the show boiled it down to single-episode installments. Like, I don’t have to waste time investing in the most pointless of plots and horribly written characters if they’re to be wiped out week to week and start anew the next. Alas, I hadn’t accounted for the possibility of each episode being so incompetent that even the more macro-application of such elements wouldn’t be very tolerable. And what’s more: boring. The outlandishness that was occasionally fun in AHS was either dialed down or rather lazily phoned in; tropes that could be fun when abused through the Murphy / Falchuck system – killer Santas, played by Danny Trejo! – were rendered inert because all the obnoxious stuff was also boiled down to its most obnoxious and immediate versions. I guess we love seeing millenials or post-millenials get their comeuppances right after posting something on Insta, but damn, it’s tired as hell and tir-ing to suffer through the most obvious of setups for the most minimal of payoffs.

There are some strengths trickled in: a demon-influenced pregnancy episode mostly works because it takes itself fairly seriously at first, before descending into the regular stupidity – which is fine; horror gets dumb and we expect that, but taking some steps to get us to invest in the dumb is important – and though I should hate on Manny Coto for writing most episodes, their written / directed effort, featuring some bloody forest slaughtering, actually has some solid quirk. And though, on one level, I didn’t mind that 3 of our 7 episodes of a supposedly episodic series were actually all a connected story, on another level, this felt like the laziest move of all: cashing in on AHS’ classic Murder House setting was pure fan service, and started out the series on a very limited path. Maybe narrowing this down to a 2-parter as a season ender – to a longer season – would’ve been rewarding, but as a framing device that was over 40% of the season, it just made me question, right from the outset, why I was watching. That this was followed by the season’s dumber episodes didn’t help sway that feeling, and now I’m here, saying some parts of the show were actually okay but giving it one star anyway.

So just count this as another season of American Horror Story, essentially. A stop-gap one. If you like one, I assume you’ll like the other to some extent, and similarly, I should’ve known better: I didn’t like the first one, and this generally inferior one thus had no chance.