Kate’s Television Musings: “American Horror Story” Is More Horror Than Story

By Kate Emswiler

Halloween is upon us, spooky readers, and with it the season of scary programming. Something about this time of year turns our thoughts to the macabre and we naturally seek out movies and TV shows that will satiate the desire to be scared silly.  Not being a huge fan of the horror genre myself, I like to see these things in small doses and mainly during this one season.  During the rest of the year, I just don’t feel the need to be routinely horrified by TV shows — “Jersey Shore” notwithstanding.

That’s why I find “American Horror Story” peculiar.  Surely there are some people who love horror so much that they want to see scary, awful things on a weekly basis.  But it seems exhausting to have an entire TV series that’s basically one long horror movie.  And unless I’m watching it during the month of October, it just feels like a tiresome series of sickening episodes.

“American Horror Story” comes to us from Ryan Murphy, the creator of “Nip/Tuck” and “Glee”, and it has gruesome elements of “Nip/Tuck” along with “Glee”’s signature “hot mess” quality of schizophrenic storylines leading viewers down paths to nowhere.  But “American Horror Story” also has a laziness to it that seems to be a direct result of being a TV show in the horror genre.  This is to say, if some plot development seems to be too odd or not working well, they can just chalk it up to the fact that the character is hallucinating, or seeing ghosts, or is in an insane asylum so nobody can tell what’s real and what’s imaginary/drug induced.  No need to explain anything, ever.

The episode of “AHS” that I truly enjoyed was the Halloween episode, perhaps because the show’s tone and content suddenly aligned with my expectations.  It was Halloween, and they could have fun with the show because we viewers would be totally on board for whatever they did.  Stuff is unpredictable and inexplicable on Halloween, and these are storytelling aspects that “AHS” has down pat.  On Halloween, go crazy with your demented self, “American Horror Story”.

But when it’s not Halloween, the show gives us nothing to hold on to.  It’s definitely horrifying, but that’s part of the problem:  it’s just gross, horrifying thing after gross, horrifying thing.  There’s no relief. The most successful shows are able to mix together tension and relief, perversion and innocence, frightening moment followed by humorous moment.  But “AHS” offers little by way of actual humanity or interesting storyline. It merely maintains a fever pitch of horror and depravity without resolution.  Maybe one of the best things about horror movies is that they have to end.  There has to be some relief at some point.  A horror show like “American Horror Story” just feels like a long, soulless march through despair.

Happy Halloween!

Kate’s Television Musings is a column running on Kate-book.com every Friday at 10:30am. It is written by the television obsessed Kate Emswiler, who you should follow on Twitter @k8ems.

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One thought on “Kate’s Television Musings: “American Horror Story” Is More Horror Than Story

  1. Kaitertot says:

    I haven’t watched AHS, so I can’t speak for it, but I will say that I am a HUGE fan of The Walking Dead. Even though it’s just starting it’s season now, in spooky October, it has a GREAT set of characters and the prolongued horrific nature never gets boring, mostly because it’s fascinating to see the transformation in each character from episode to episode, and season to season.

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