Before the co-creators of “Glee” Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk debuted their anthology series “American Horror Story” back in 2011, the television world had no idea what it was in for. With the help of some ambiguous, visually-enticing trailers, the creators left prospective viewers with more questions than answers on what to expect –– effectively creating a widespread buzz before the show’s premiere. A genius marketing technique could have been enough alone to launch lesser shows, but the Murphy and Falchuk had so many more tricks up their sleeves.
When I first heard the creators of “Glee” were making a horror show, I scoffed. I thought: Haven’t they done enough damage to the realm of TV with their tacky, musical contribution? So imagine my surprise when I found myself tuning in for their new show every week, counting down the days to each new episode. “American Horror Story” was like nothing I had ever seen before, and being someone with a DNA-deep aversion to scary things, it spoke to the show’s quality that even I could withstand the spooks.
Season one of “AHS” was everything I could ask for from a TV show. It was cinemagraphic, well-written, sexy, suspenseful, compelling and the list goes on. Amidst all the sexual and horror-driven thrills, season one, “Murder House,” had a cohesive plot and a knockout concept. The idea of a victorian age home holding all the spirits who had ever come to pass within its walls made for a wide playing field for the writers — and they used it wisely. The addition of backstories of tangential characters being added slowly to the greater story line of the Harmon family gave encapturing tidbits of these surrounding spirits, intercutting between different periods of time, all without detracting from the story arc.
Aside from the consistency in directorial style and strength in the base concept, just about everything great about season one would come to slowly fall away in those following. Many cite the beginning of the end with season three, “Coven,” –– which did undeniably suck –– but to me the issues that would become the all out downfall of AHS were birthed in season two.
The idea of a horror story in a 1960s asylum was by far the theme that resonated with me the most. It felt, however, as though the creators lost all sense of restraint from this season forward –– perhaps on the high of a wild success in their first season. The addition of Adam Levine (“The Voice”) and Jenna Dewan Tatum (“Step Up”) to the cast highlighted what would continue to be a pointless piece of the “AHS” rhetoric: Irrelevant celebrities being added on for the sake of star power. Cough, cough –– I love you, Stevie Nicks, but you had no business coming on this supposed horror show.
Season two, like every season of “AHS,” was incredible in its concept, but rather than letting the strength of that stand on its own, the creators stuffed each episode full of every bit of shock value they could get their hands on. Adding in alien probings, flesh-eating creatures and a polyamorous ending for Evan Peters (“X-Men: Apocalypse”), the season just ended on a sour note for me, which was indicative of what was to come. While horror is about making a viewer squirm and jump, the show became less about beautifully built-up tragic or terrifying storylines that made it what it was and more about pushing the “Did they really just do that?” feeling.
By season four, “Freak Show,” it felt as though Murphy and Falchuk were just drunk off the power of this empire they had created, feeling they could do no wrong. Again, while this season had things that worked, they continued trying to squish in every star, every OMG moment, every grotesque sex scene they possibly could. To add insult to injury, the creators let their true colors seep through with the addition of terribly tacky and pointless musical numbers. I could have gone the rest of my life without hearing Evan Peters perform Nirvana, or without hearing Sarah Paulson (“American Gothic”) do the ugliest cry known to mankind throughout every season, for that matter.
While nothing can take away the majesty of season one, the steady decline of “AHS” ’s quality has just desecrated the good name it once made for itself. Mind you, many of the flaws were forgivable enough, considering I made it through season seven, “Roanoke.” But that was more out of a morbid curiosity of how much worse the show could have possibly gotten and what jaw-dropping boundaries they would be pushing this season.
Where I draw the line, however, is the most recent season, “Cult.” It took about under 10 minutes for me to recognize that all I had once loved about the show had vanished, and in its place was just an obnoxious soap box for social commentary, hidden under the thin veil of a shitty plot. I really never wanted to lose faith in you, “AHS” (I really tried), but it’s just gone too far. I wish I could say the creators should quit while they’re ahead, but that chance already came and went.