Say what you will about “American Horror Story,” but it’s never been boring.
With “Hotel,” the horror anthology once more stages an all-out assault of every conceivable vice, repression and dirty thought, even if the final product isn’t perfect.
Though the show has yet to achieve the poetic transcendence of the grotesque that elevated “Hannibal” into a masterpiece, it nonetheless creates a fascinating universe. Like all of “AHS,” “Hotel” is undoubtedly heightened, painting its world with distorted lenses and a dark, velveteen-hued palette.
“Hotel,” like its predecessors, relishes in the perverse. The look and feel of the Hotel Cortez — the true main character of the show — can best be described as a fetish club, operating in an alternate dimension and run by the staff of the Overlook Hotel from “The Shining.” If “Hannibal” was about making the gruesome seem beautiful, “Hotel” defiles the sacred, daring the viewer with sadistic glee to keep watching.
“AHS” is not pleasant, and many viewers will likely be turned off by the show’s utter lack of compassion. It’s also a little hard not to be distracted by Lady Gaga, who never really disappears into her character to the extent of someone like Denis O’ Hare (“True Blood”). Though viewers will come for Gaga, but it’s character actors like O’Hare who give the show its sense of identity. The “AHS” regular plays a cross-dressing front desk worker named Liz Taylor, who leaves as equal an impression silently reading a copy of “Ulysses” as Gaga does in entire scenes of dialogue. The rest of the cast seems to be retreads of characters from previous seasons, but the amount of fun Kathy Bates (“Misery”), Lily Rabe (“The Whispers”) and Sarah Paulson (“12 Years a Slave”) have onscreen is infectious.
Matt Bomer (“White Collar”) and Wes Bentley (“The Hunger Games”) also return. Bomer plays the junkie son of Bates, while Bentley plays family man and police detective John Lowe, who’s being taunted by a serial killer connected to the Cortez.
The majority of the story is beyond insanity, and it’s this commitment to the absurd that saves the show. Falchuk and Murphy’s style is like “Twin Peaks” and “Rocky Horror Picture Show” had a baby that was adopted by horror directors Dario Argento and James Wan. The whole thing’s so pulpy and melodramatic, yet so otherworldly, you forgive it for its transgressions, at least for now.
The problem with “AHS” always ends up being its progress as the season goes on. Season one is often praised for being tied, even if by a thread, to the reality of the present. However, despite some of the hate thrown at it, season two (“Asylum”) remains the most memorable. It was this season that threw out the preoccupation with the real world and delivered something that felt more like music, with characters being played like power chords rather than human beings.
Many might look at the series as clichéd or trashy, an over-the-top mess that’s equal parts disgusting, offensive, perverse and likely to divide everyone that watches it. In other words, it’s still not boring.