American Horror Story

I will not give specific spoilers for the FX show American Horror Story, but I will talk in a vague way about the show’s themes and principle characters. It features a family undergoing some internal stress that moves to a Bad House. Bad Things start to happen.

Watching American Horror Story is like watching a theater put on a re-interpretation of a play I know very well. If I knew any plays very well, or was the sort of person who goes to the theater a lot. What I am trying to say is, absolutely nothing in this television show is new or original. Yet the execution of the themes and plots is a delight. It’s the performative nature of this drama that has filled me with warm, fuzzy feelings of contentment.

The creative staff of AHS knows their marks. Pregnancy is scary. Laughing children are scary. Faceless things are scary. The creators know that we are afraid of the dark. On a more complex level, the writers know that men are very often afraid of being out of control, or helpless, or both. And they know that women are very often afraid of abandonment, or emotional suffocation, or both. Like ALL good horror, the supernatural elements work because we care about the humans involved. But those elements also work because they reify the emotional drama.

When I say the creative staff knows their marks, I am NOT implying that this is a rote, or by-the-numbers, piece. Oh, goodness, no. This is a pedal-to-the-metal, balls-out, hair-on-fire rendition of themes and scares we already know. The creepy guy who gives weird warnings is super creepy. The weird sexy-games are WEIRD, yet obviously played as sexy. The wacky neighbor who knows things is really, really wacky, and really knows things.

In its passion and commitment, AHS reminds me of some of the manga I enjoy. Nana, for instance, is about relationships and indecision and coming of age in young adulthood, and oh my goodness does it draw those things out. If you want to wallow is all those feeeeeeeeellllings, then you go read Nana. The manga Life is about how teenagers can be cruel. And, oh my goodness, the teenagers are cruel in ways that are wildly over-the-top. This comic commits to its insanely cruel teenagers.

AHS is like this. You want a haunted house? You’ve got one. The show is pornographic, not in its weird sexy-games, but in its baldly unapologetic commitment to and presentation of its content. You pay your money for a show and you are by-god going to get a show, it seems to say. I really admire this.

American Horror Story is clearly not going to be for everyone. But if you are the sort of person who likes this thing, you should give it a try. Watching the show is like going to the haunted hay ride with your friends, one of whom likes to grab people and yell BOO at unexpected moments. If you know your friend is like that and you go anyway, you’re probably going to have a good time.

One Response

  1. I had to be pushed to watch AHS, I don’t like scary stories. It was very obviously very good, but I turned it off a few times and had to go back to it later. It didn’t help that I managed to watch episode 2 thinking that was the pilot, so I had problems with what was happening and whether I cared about the people they were happening too. I’ve found it easier to watch since the third episode, though I could have done without the opening scenes of one particular episode.

    But yes, it’s beautifully done, really excellent storytelling, and I will be continuing to watch.

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