Binge Watchin' TV Review: American Horror Story
Welcome to Binge Watchin,’ where we take a look at some of the best TV shows available on streaming or disc that have a great catalogue of seasons to jump into and get sucked into the beautiful bliss of binge watching! From crime, action, comedy, drama, animation, etc., we’ll be evaluating an assortment of shows that will hopefully serve as a gateway to your next binge experience.
Series: American Horror Story
Number of Seasons: Four Seasons, 64 Episodes
What’s the show about?
Are you looking for demented serial murderers, Salem witches, possessed nuns or a haunted house that won’t let the dead rest? Each season, American Horror Story offers up a different location, with different stories and characters, most of which are doomed down a dark and horrific path. From the ‘House’ in season one to the ‘Asylum’ in season two, and on to ‘Coven’ in season three and ‘Freak Show’ in season four, there is a ton of gruesome fun for horror fans looking for a little genre mash-up. All of it with a top notch group of actors playing out some twisted and horrific entertainment.
Why should I watch?
From the very first episode of American Horror Story, I have been continually shocked, spooked and entertained. It all began with the dysfunctional Harmon family looking to start over after an adulterous husband, Dan Harmon (Dylan McDermott), nearly destroyed his marriage after having sex with a very unstable girl named Hayden (Kate Mara). Not only did the horrors of betrayal haunt Dan’s frustrated wife Vivien (Connie Britton) - as well as their brooding daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga) - so did every single person that died at the house. All of the ghastly spirits who clutched onto remnants of their brutal lives. This strong opening led to some truly disturbing and scary stories about a “Bloody Mary” type urban legend called ‘Piggy Man’ as well as three deadly intruders (a terrifically terrifying trio played perfectly by Kyle Davis, Mageina Tovah and Azura Skye). And let us not forget the shifty scene-stealing Jessica Lange as ‘Constance,’ the intrusive next door neighbor.
As each season has progressed, the strange happenings have reached fascinating heights of the wild and the weird. “Asylum” threw in nearly every possible thing they could, and they did it with gruesome Glee (and yes, I am referencing the OTHER Ryan Murphy/Brad Falchuk series). For some, the second season was a bit too much of nearly everything. Yet this bloody and darkly sexual season hit all the right notes for this viewer. With Jessica Lange at the forefront as Sister Jude - a very wicked headmistress at the asylum - it was a hellaciously fun ride. The series continued to offer some serious talent an exciting place to play on television, with Sarah Paulson expanding her role for the first time. As well, it featured Zachary Quinto, James Cromwell, Chloë Sevigny and Joseph Fiennes all chewing a little bit of scenery for horror sake. And then there was another returning actor who really had the chance to go nutso in this season. Lily Rabe was thrilling as a nun who gets all too close to the devil.
With the following two seasons, the series continued to cast some serious talent. You had a ton of returning co-stars for the witchfest ‘Coven’, including Lange, Rabe, Paulson, Evan Peters, Frances Conroy, Denis O’Hare and so many more. But then they up the talent ante with Angela Bassett, Kathy Bates, and Emma Roberts who proved to be the perfect bitch of a witch. And if you happen to dig Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac, her appearance on a couple of episodes, including the satisfying ‘The Seven Wonders’ season finale, was absolutely captivating. As a fan of all thing witchy, I personally was put under Coven's spell.
At times, this past season ‘Freak Show’ was too melodramatic for it’s own good. If you have an amazing villain like Twisty the Clown (the incredible John Carroll Lynch) you really could utilize him a whole lot more. That said, with a solid opening and a drawn out middle, once the episode entitled ‘Orphans’ came up - featuring a surprisingly heartbreaking performance by Naomi Grossman as Pepper - I was back on board for all the madness. With not enough emphasis on the horror midway through, it took the crazed charisma of Dandy Mott (Finn Wittrock) - and even Neil Patrick Harris in an inspired role - to really bring this series back to it’s oddball and atmospheric self. Bizarre musical numbers aside, I ended up warming up to the heart that ‘Freak Show’ cut out and offered up. Hell, I may have even gotten a little bit teary-eyed when I witnessed Ms. Grossman’s chance to really shine as the lovably sweet dimwit.
American Horror Story may not always be on point, but when it works it is wondrous. The writers seem to be living out some sickly strange fantasies, and the directors manage to really bring the spooks to life. It also helps that if one story doesn’t work for you, you can simply skip it and binge watch what does. While I appreciate the fact that every year it is a different tale, I’ve found the occasional connection to seasons past very satisfying. My only complaint for what is to come, is that I’ve grown to really look forward to the outrageous antics that Jessica Lange is willing to do. Her, is she or isn’t she, evil characters are thrilling to watch, and she is quite frankly one hell of a fantastic actress. She will be sorely missed - I only hope that she has not made a permanent departure.
While I appreciate all four seasons, I have to say that ‘Asylum’ was one eccentric and eerie ride. Lily Rabe blew me away with a sweet nun who has to dance with the devil. And once again, Jessica Lange presented a fascinating character that still scares the crap out of me - once she pulls out that ruler you’d better be on your best behavior. In all of the outrageousness, this second season was crazily compelling for this viewer. Some may have been put off by the everything but the kitchen sink attitude of ‘Asylum,’ but I for one was willing to take it all in and run with it. I also give credit to this series for taking on historical figures in especially creative ways, like the wonderful two-parter “I Am Anne Frank.” Yes, if I have to recommend just one, I was fully committed to ‘Asylum.’
American Horror Story appeals to me for a number of reasons. The characters are crazed - even the sane ones - and the psychos are even crazier. It offers up scary images and directors willing to present all of the weirdness in wonderful ways. The show constantly pushed boundaries with it’s exploration of disturbing subject matter, nudity and gruesome goings on - especially considering you can find it on basic cable. The series is a celebration of horror in it’s most outrageousness. And while I look forward to the upcoming ‘Hotel,’ which premieres on October 7th, the brilliance of Ms. Lange will be missed. Thankfully however, we have a whole slew of new talent involved and I am looking forward to checking in.