**Contains spoilers. Do not read ahead if you wish to avoid AHS spoilers or verbose, pointless ramblings**
“Oh, I don’t really watch TV,” she said smugly. What she meant was, “I don’t watch TV on a TV set. I watch hella TV on Netflix.”
Every few months I will devour an entire TV series on Netflix. I’m no better than anyone who tunes into “their shows” each week. But, I can still say with an air of superiority, “No, I haven’t seen that commercial.”
My point is, I watch very little TV on TV. I have to really care about a show to actually turn on the TV for it each week. I haven’t done it for years. That is until…
I shied away from American Horror Story for awhile because, as you know if you read my previous post or know me in real life, I am the pansiest of pansies. But curiosity got the best of me, and I dove into AHS season 1 (a.k.a. American Horror Story: Murder House) on Netflix on finished it within three or four days.
It was a quick and dark descent. I now knew what the big deal was about AHS: Murder House—and it wasn’t that it was scary! Psh. There are way scarier things in the world.
What Murder House is is frothy, somewhat horror-tinged fun! Beautiful people looking beautiful together
Crying beautiful tears over campy, recycled horror tropes
And Jessica Lange mesmerizing us all by being the Second Coming of Sass.
Oh my god, Jessica Lange is this show. This show without Jessica Lange is a like a limp, wet noodle that Connie Britton, with her weak smile, desperately tries to feed you over candlelight. This show with Jessica Lange is like a rich, zesty lasagna bursting with a symphony of flavor that Jessica Lange will side-eye you for scarfing down in her presence. A lasagna that is only served in the dark recesses of some beautiful underground Italian cave-restaurant (you know the kind I mean).
Sure, Murder House has other stuff going for it. There’s a hot murderer guy (who every girl watching the show wants to bang, which is troubling because he’s a murderer, and we, as a society, really need to stop romanticizing violence and mental illness and making sexy Charles Manson movies, but hey, let’s forget about that and look at the hot murderer guy some more). There’s also real-life murder cases woven into the story, which is kind of fun (wrong word?). But often the only genuinely sinister and compelling force is Jessica Lange. She drives this show and God help Ryan Murphy when she leaves. God grant Ryan Murphy the serenity to cancel the show when Our Lady Jessica is gone.
I assumed season 2, Asylum, would be worse than season 1 (like other Ryan Murphy shows that just got progressively worse). But I was mistaken! Asylum was bomb ass! Stylistically on point, tonally consistent, and at times, very frightening.
J. Lange is fantastic as an evil nun, Farmer Hoggett plays a convincing mad scientist, there are some amazing (and weird) guest performances, and while Murder House struggled to strike a balance between true crime and the paranormal, Asylum skillfully merged religious/demonic themes with psychological horror (though the alien plotline could have been scrapped).
But season 3… Coven… whew, boy. I can’t even begin to cover all the wrong.
By the time it aired, I was all caught up and tuned into the first episode on an actual television! This season certainly had promise and more star power than ever. I was also excited about the focus on witches, since they haven’t really been done well in the past decade (what with the hyper-focus on vampires). And though it was stylish and had some great performances, it was a hot ass mess.
Was it about witches? I think it was supposed to be, but all I got was “Hi, I’m Ryan Murphy, and here’s Jessica Lange!!! She’s back! And she’s still a fabulous bitch! And even though she’s just playing a less developed version of her characters from the past two seasons, you’ll still watch, because like Superman, Jessica Lange can take a lump of shit and turn it into a lump of diamonds, or whatever it is Superman does. God, can you believe she came back? What luck! I mean, we don’t even have to write a script, right? We’ll put her up there and she’ll make something happen! And, uh… oh, we can put Stevie Nicks on the show! … Huh? Yeah, I know it sounds weird, but we’ll make it work! … well, I love Fleetwood Mac, so you’re just gonna have to deal with it.”
Coven brought in several formidable actresses and had no idea what to do with them, never fully developing their plot lines, killing them off too early, and giving them lazy and inconsistent characterizations. Though I can dig the “girl power” direction Coven tried to take, it cast just one too many divas who pulled the story in so many directions it became exhausting to watch.
Ultimately, Coven approached witchcraft with a really disappointing lack of imagination. And at some point, the season became more focused on pushing its underlying “big message” (intolerance is bad, or something else obvious), and the supernatural elements that were meant to guide the season felt like a footnote.
Though I was almost certain season 4 would be an equal disappointment, I turned on a physical television yet again.
Like the seasons before it, it looked cool, was sufficiently eerie, and had Jessica Lange. But for some reason, I had zero interest in it. It could be that I had just gotten a new laptop and was distracted, trying to figure how to work this damn thing (what are you, Mac?!), or it could be that I was tired after a long day of work, and Ryan Murphy seems to think 10-11:30 pm on a Wednesday night is the happening time slot. But truly, I think I was just bored. Woo, Jessica Lange is a saucy older woman with a weird accent again. Woo, Evan Peters is hot but “different” again. Woo, this promo just told me I’m gonna have to sit through Emma Roberts’ acting again. No. Three seasons was enough. More than enough.
No, I’m not trying to be cool and hop off the AHS train before everyone else. As proof, here are ACTUAL LIVE NOTES I jotted down while watching episodes 1 and 2:
-I can already tell where this season is going: accept people who are different. Sometimes the real monsters are the so-called “normal people.” Because what would a Ryan Murphy show be if not painfully obvious?
-“I’ll tell you who the monsters are! The people outside this tent! My monsters, the ones you call depraved, they are the beautiful, heroic ones!” Yep. I was right.
-“From the cabarets of pre-war Berlin.” So J. Lange’s character is Sally Bowles? God, Ryan Murphy wants this show to be a musical so bad AND WHAT THE FUCK SHE IS SINGING DAVID BOWIE
-Kathy Bates is a bearded woman, and looks very natural with said beard. Like a founding father.
-Evan Peters is a hot guy with strange hands, not unlike another misunderstood societal cast-off we all know and love.
-Wtf are the twins doing singing Fiona Apple? Ugh, Ryan Murphy.
-Damn, J. Lange could slice cheese with those cheek bones.
-NOT about this clown.
-But he does play by his own rules, which I respect.
-Kinda already giving up on AHS. It’s happened. Sorry, so sorry. But fuck clowns. And I’m an old lady now with a 10:30 bedtime. You can’t make me do this one, Ryan Murphy!!!!
-Oh, I think we’re edging into misunderstood clown territory! Perhaps he had a difficult childhood and assumes the role of clown to bring others the merriment he never had? (I mean, perhaps…)
-Are all the AHS’s gonna be an hour and a half long???? People have to work in the morning! Ugh. Why am I still here??
There you have it. A chronicle of the very moment I decided to give up on the one show that still had me turning on the TV.
Several weeks later, I got an idea (I got a wonderful, awful idea).
I could tune back into AHS and try to summarize the show thus far, without actually having seen the past few episodes. The idea was that I would be able to call Ryan Murphy out on AHS’s predictability. However, like so many of my ideas, this one was tainted by alcohol. I decided to throw a drinking game into my task (and by “drinking game,” I mean “more liberal sips of wine,” because I’m not a lunatic who thinks Wednesday night is the night to get down). The game was that I would have a sip of wine every time I didn’t know a character’s name. I thought I was in the clear… I had only missed three episodes. But y’all, chaos ensued.
Mary’s Wild Guesses or Humble Hypotheses about AHS: Freak Show/A Drinking Game
-All I can think of when I hear Kathy Bates speak is The Unsinkable Molly Brown. She swam away from the lifeboat and joined the circus!!!
-Ok so here’s that mama’s boy who’s into the circus. Ew his mom bought him condoms? A mother’s gift always keeps on giving (note to self: contact Trojan w/ commercial idea)
-Kathy Bates and J. Lange don’t have a lot of on-screen chemistry. They’re both powerhouses, so it just doesn’t gel. It’s like watching two big, proud birds try to pick over a dead deer. That dead deer being this show’s writing.
-Woah, J. Lange. Get it with this tattooed man. Smoke that opium.
gulps sips of wine because these two seem to be primary characters and I haven’t a clue what their names are.
-One twin is optimistic and one is skeptical. OH MY GOD, TWINS LOOK THE SAME, BUT THEY ARE DIFFERENT PEOPLE! Ryan Murphy, you’re breaking all kinds of ground!!!
-What is this mama’s boy’s name? 1 sip. Pembly. That is what I will call him.
-Why is The Simpsons still on? #commercialthoughts
-So let me guess: This tattooed man has a heart of gold and is in a somewhat one-sided and emotionally abusive relationship with J. Lange. He cares about her, but she’s cold. So he takes refuge in the arms of the young woman who J. Lange lured to the freak show to have sex with all the carnies.
-Ughhhhh Emma Roberts…
-1 sip for E. Roberts, 1 for Denis O’Hare.
–Into the Woods!!! This is the only movie I’m in any way excited to see! Meryl Streep will warble her way through every song and Johnny Depp will do his Johnny Depp schtick and Disney will Disney up the ending. But who cares? Sondheim! Anna Kendrick! Fairy tales! I’d go see this shit on Christmas day! But then, I would hate to work on Christmas and maybe the right thing to do would be to not patronize any places of business on Christmas and give people a break and build towards societal change… but I’d love to see this movie on Christmas. I could even sneak in some egg nog. Who’d be checking? They’d all be preoccupied with going home to their families. It’s the perfect crime! Mwahaha! #commercialthoughts
-Oh my god, another song?? I’m willing to bet ($1.90) that Ryan Murphy has incorporated a musical number into every episode I’ve missed. Someone hold me to it!
-Is J. Lange wearing a wig? … Are we all wearing a wig? #deepthoughts
-Tattoo Man is gonna die or be seriously wounded on the wheel.
-Yep, there ya go. He was so likable, yet he was the one to be injured! What a paradox! Ryan Murphy! Always full of unconventional ideas!
-Ok. I still have to drink for the little woman, Evan Peters, tall woman, Frances Conroy, and like 5 other people I think. Yeah. Maybe 7. Let’s go.
-Tattoo Man is alive, but barely. And I think he’s gonna die within the next 10-20 minutes because his sweet young thang just showed up to profess how much she cares for him, and come on, he isn’t allowed to be happy.
-What’s the deal with all these macho food commercials? Like a super manly, almost comical voice having to say “filet” in the most gravely tone possible? Jesus, it’s food. People are gonna eat it no matter what. No need to gender it! #commercialthoughts
-Pembly actually has a cool bedroom. I get that it’s supposed to look disturbingly childish, but a life-sized tiger stuffed animal?? Sign me up!
-“I wish you could be inside my body for one minute” -Pembly to his mother. Good lord, they have some problems.
-Pembly looks like he could have very easily been on a 90s teen drama and played a heartthrob called Jake Skylar, or Skye Jakeler, or something. He’s got that kind of 90s-teen-boy-beauty.
-The only thing I’m sure of in life: When Kathy Bates says, “I’d kill you with my own two hands,” followed by a tender smile, she means it.
-K, so I guess it’s over? I’m kind of disappointed. Not much happened. I’m not even watching this show, and I can tell this was just a transition episode. Laaaame.
***30 minute intermission***
Ok, I’m back. I tried to edit what I wrote, but now I’m just kind of drunk and watching Passions on Youtube.
So tell me, did I make some correct guesses about the show so far? Any worthwhile predictions? What I can tell you is that this was one of the silliest ways I’ve ever spent an evening. It was born from a genuine place of spurned fandom and (still genuine, though less noble) writer-y self-righteousness. I thought I’d make all the right guesses and “win,” but really, Ryan Murphy won.
He got me to stay up past my bedtime. He got me kind of drunk (I know what you’re thinking, but shh. Let’s not point fingers). He also gave me a horrible night’s sleep in which I dreamt I was back in college living a prison cell-like dorm with an absentee roommate named Hero (#deep) and was repeating my undergrad education for the sole purpose of getting free library resources. To top it all off, I woke up with wine breath.
However, the way in which Ryan Murphy truly won was that he brought me back to American Horror Story. Sure, I wanted to be right. Sure, I wanted an excuse to drink. But I was also just curious to see what was happening!
All in all, the show is compelling. It’s not perfect. Although Jessica Lange is some kind of cold, “I don’t do hugs” version of Wonder Woman, she’s not enough to save the show from tiring itself out. But the show is full of strong performances, surprising moments, scary and touching alike, and striking visuals.
That having been said, I probably won’t be back for more. After all, I gotta get up in the morning.