American Horror Story season 6 premiered last night on FX, and amidst a flurry of fake trailers hinting at the theme of this new season, the one that originally leaked prevailed over all – the subtitle for this year’s story is My Roanoke Nightmare, which was everyone’s first guess before a lot of secretive trailers attempted to obscure the real theme. (I’ve gotta say, not really digging the subtitle anyway; I would have preferred just Roanoke, since this one feels too theatrical, but I’m not at the writer’s table so who am I to say?)
But American Horror Story has always had a difficult time figuring out its themes, to the point where it’s become a tradition of watching how far each season can devolve from its original storyline. With that said, we all know that, even if the season becomes a trainwreck, we’ll keep watching – there’s something about the show’s insanity that keeps me coming back despite frustration with the plot. In honor of the new season, let’s rank the five completed seasons of American Horror Story, from worst to best.
5. American Horror Story: Freak Show
The biggest problem with Freak Show is that it starts out so well, only to lose its footing around the halfway point. Twisty the Clown is probably one of American Horror Story‘s most iconic characters, and John Carroll Lynch does such a great job with him that it’s disappointing when he eventually leaves the show without much fanfare. From there, Freak Show attempts to juggle multiple plot lines that don’t go anywhere, even adding Neil Patrick Harris in towards the very end as a traveling salesman. What first started out as a tribute to Tod Browning’s Freaks ended up becoming American Horror Story‘s messiest season, full of bad musical numbers that are more horrifying than the freaks themselves.
4. American Horror Story: Coven
Again, American Horror Story: Coven started with an intriguing premise about a modern-day coven of witches in a coming-of-age story that involved life after death and a link to 19th-century witchcraft and voodoo, but ultimately the season went off the rails after countless characters experienced resurrection, taking all of the pathos out of death. Add to it seriously problematic subplots about an ax murderer, the voodoo devil Papa Legba, and a guest appearance by Stevie Nicks, and Coven becomes a show that is both overstuffed and curiously lacking in entertainment or fun. Plus, here’s where Emma Roberts began her legacy as an insufferable bitch.
3. American Horror Story: Asylum
Asylum is often cited as one of the show’s best seasons, and I’ll agree that a lot of this second season hit more than it missed. Sister Jude is expertly portrayed by Jessica Lange, and her character progression is one of the best parts of the show. Sarah Paulson, too, steals the show as a lesbian reporter who can’t leave well enough alone. The plot centralizes on character, rather than events, which creates a significantly more focused version of the show than subsequent seasons – along with a very grim tone about religion. Despite that, the muddled plot – including aliens, a nutty surgeon, flash-forwards, and possession – becomes too much for the writers to handle, and most of the middle half spirals out of control before the season comes to a surprisingly adequate close.
2. American Horror Story: Hotel
Surprisingly, American Horror Story came back with a fairly successful story arc after the miserable Freak Show. It also included a shockingly good portrayal of a lady vampiress thanks to Lady Gaga, who overcame the haters with some solid acting where she basically got to play a meaner version of herself, complete with fashion and sexy booty shots. Other than that, though, Hotel‘s plot reminded me of punky ’80s films like The Lost Boys in a way that really drew me in, along with references to other time periods like the blaxploitation era. While this season was certainly hit-or-miss at times and, yet again, jam-packed with stuff (like the serial killer dinner party, which was intriguing but unnecessary), I had way more fun with this season than almost every other American Horror Story idea.
1. American Horror Story: Murder House
Sometimes, the best idea is the first. American Horror Story‘s first season definitely had one thing going for it: the format was unexpected. It also helped that its channel, FX, was open to airing a relatively uncensored television show – American Horror Story fit perfectly with that format, and it certainly used taboo ideas for its subject matter. Murder House was messy, but in a way that worked so much better than the rest of the show’s subsequent seasons – because viewers didn’t know what to expect, there was an eerie awkwardness to every episode, with audiences getting bombarded with weird shit every few minutes. Rubber man? Check. Ghosts? You got it. Rape, devil children, and a pig killer? Yep. This was where American Horror Story‘s technique of throwing stuff at the wall and hoping it sticks felt freshest, and it’s hard to reproduce that feeling once viewers are expecting it.
Hopefully, My Roanoke Nightmare can top the best of American Horror Story‘s seasons. But let me know what you think in the comments – is my list completely wrong? Am I being unfair to Freak Show? Does Lady Gaga’s booty deserve a #2 spot (in my opinion – yes)?
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