When American Horror Story premiered on the FX Network last year, the wife and I thought “Ooh, this looks interesting. A serialized horror program? Genius! We love horror, so this will be great!”
But I feel like it’s our love of horror that has kept us from enjoying this show. It can’t be said we didn’t give it a fair shake, we watched all 12 episodes of the first season. This was for a number of reasons, starting with “Maybe it will get better as it progresses” which transitioned into “Wait, there are people who like this show? Really? Why? Let’s keep watching, maybe we don’t get it yet” which finally rested on “Well, let’s finish out the season, at least. Maybe once we see the whole thing, it’ll be better in retrospect.”
The biggest problem I had with the show was the lack of likable characters. Something that is paramount in any sort of fiction, but I feel even more so in horror, is that you have at least one character to root for. The great thing about horror, and the reason that even most bad horror movies are still enjoyable to watch, is that even if you don’t like any of the characters, there is usually at least one character that you dislike so much more than the others, that you watch just to see what horrible fate befalls them. This was not the case with American Horror Story. I found myself not merely liking or disliking the characters, but rather I felt a deep sense of indifference toward them. I honestly didn’t care what happened to these characters, one way or the other. I would have liked to, at the very least, wanted to see one or two of them meet a grisly end, but no.
The second thing that bothered me about the show was that all of the bits that were meant to be scary were not. Not to me, anyway, and not to the wife. Maybe we’ve seen too many horror movies, read too many scary stories, maybe we’re desensitized by seeing many of the same things over and over again. But if that was the case, then why am I enjoying The Walking Dead so much? Why do I find that show to be genuinely scary and dramatic? The wife doesn’t share my love of The Walking Dead, but she is also in the minority of people who dislike zombies. She agrees that the writing and acting is solid, but the zombies are the part of the show that takes her out of it.
American Horror Story seems to throw a lot at you in a small amount of screen time. In the first fifteen minutes of an episode, we’ll see someone stabbed, someone shot, a dead baby dismembered and reassembled into some sort of Frankenstein’s monster (albeit, that occurred off-camera), and all the jerky camera movements you can shake a, well, camera at. They take a lot of queues from the Asian horror archetype, and to be fair, some of them work. But for the most part, you’re just left watching a character whose head is shaking around erratically for no reason. Not exactly scary, per se. Especially since it’s been done many times –and better– elsewhere.
All of that being said, there were points of the show that I enjoyed. Jessica Lange is wonderful in this series. In fact, if I were forced to choose a sole reason for someone to watch American Horror Story, it would be her performances alone that I would base my recommendation on. I’ve enjoyed the work of Zachary Quinto since his role of Sylar on Heroes back in the day, so I was quite happy to see him pop up from time to time. The writing is decent, which I’m counting as a compliment to the series, though honestly, it could have been much better. Some of the episodes were genuinely creepy, yes, and many of the themes that they handle over the course of the season are disturbing and unsettling, so it does it’s job in that way. But every episode started with me thinking “Oh, they’re going to do this. But no, that’s too obvious. They’ll do something completely different, right?” and ended with me thinking “Oh. I guess not.”
People applaud the show for its varied twists and turns and the surprising path the subplots follow throughout the season, though I have to say, I was never very surprised by anything. Maybe I’ve seen too many M. Night Shyamalan movies to not see a “surprise” twist coming, at this point, but between the wife and I, we were able to figure out every single “shocking” plot point before it even happened. In fact, most times we were able to predict how an episode would end before it even started. We would read the episode description on our DVR and say “This is going to happen.” and it would. Almost every time.
There were episodes I enjoyed, episodes I absolutely hated and wished would have ended sooner, and there were episodes that I was completely indifferent toward. I can’t say the show is completely without merit, and I can’t say that watching it was an entirely unpleasant experience for me or the wife, but overall, given the sigh of relief we both let out at the season finally ending, I don’t think we’ll be watching next season.
Bring on The Walking Dead, though.