I Shouldn’t Be Watching This: American Horror Story

AHS has racked up several awards due to its submission as a drama miniseries (even though it’s an ongoing TV drama). There’s an argument to be made for the stupidity of giving someone an award because of semantics, but considering the show’s narrative structure, most are willing to let that go. Each season of American Horror Story features a new cast of characters and a whole new story (with some of the same actors). In this third season of the show, we follow a band of young witches learning to harness their special powers.

American Horror Story: Coven on FX | Promotional Photo Courtesy of FX
American Horror Story: Coven on FX | Promotional photo courtesy of FX

What AHS is good at is its genuinely creepy sequences. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, the point director for the third season, has done some incredible work with light and color to wring the most creepiness out of every scene. The camera work is more daring than anything else on TV, constantly keeping the viewer off balance and uneasy. The photography on this show, along with its art department, is top notch.

The writing, on the other hand, makes enjoying AHS as a bona fide great horror show a virtual impossibility. The cast is strong for the most part (season 3’s weak link thus far is Emma Roberts, looking totally lost in every scene she’s in). Like every Ryan Murphy show, the dialogue is often so hacky it devalues everything the art department has done to establish the mood. Clunky expositional scenes become a kind of warped comedy. The actors struggle to sound anything but dumb and it ends with a higher number of groaners per episode than you’d want as a TV writer.

Which begs the question, is AHS meant to be taken seriously as a horror drama, or is it meant to be taken as a dialed-up-to-eleven campy adventure? Too many times, the series tries to have its cake and eat it too, and the show ends up a muddled mess. It’s hard to find anything actually scary when the writing is constantly undercutting the stakes of the scene. When there are killer-vagina plotlines (not an exaggeration, in case you were thinking I was making a joke), it’s hard to take the show’s occasional stabs at meaningful thematic work seriously. Given that much of American Horror Story’s third season concerns itself with racial conflicts, I don’t see the show having the subtlety necessary to not crash and burn.

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