As series four arrives, we look at why American Horror Story might be the best show on TV right now.
Christ knows someone had to say it. Television needs a new show to take up the throne since Breaking Bad stepped down. Yes, Game of Thrones is sniffing around, but what really is a better candidate than FX’s American Horror Story? It has all of the vital ingredients. It’s got more heart than The Walking Dead. It’s bolder than Hannibal or Bates Motel. It’s too early to argue for True Detective or Fargo, and the cast in American Horror Story is better than just about any other on TV at the moment. With a brand new season preparing to air, American Horror Story looks likely to tighten the stranglehold on the competition, proving it can indeed go toe-to-toe with some of TV’s heavyweights.
AHS doesn’t spend too much time on one story; it gets to the point and resolves the story within a 13-episode season
It takes a number of things for a TV show to be the best: compelling writing, larger-than-life characters with relatable flaws, stand-out performances, artistic style, and strong thematic/metaphorical elements, with a healthy mixture of commercial attention to deem it a success. It’s all subjective of course, but if you look back at some of the television series that have been labelled ‘the best on TV’, they have contained all of these elements and more. The Sopranos was critically adored, it had commercial success and it didn’t do badly at the odd award show, either.
The same can be said for 24, Mad Men, The Wire – the list goes on. American Horror Story has all of these elements and something that makes it a little different: it’s an anthology series, so it refreshes with a new story and new actors every year. AHS doesn’t spend too much time on one story; it gets to the point and resolves the story within a 13-episode season. It also nails characterisation with the perfect balance between great writing and acting – Jessica Lange in particular brings a certain gravitas and bravado to her performance – but it’s no secret that American Horror Story reserves its best for its female characters, holding the power as they do in the series.
The first season of American Horror Story had strong maternal themes throughout. The second season then went on to explore faith, science, fame and sexuality, and the third season played with mortality and hierarchy. There’s plenty to think about in American Horror Story, and there’s something for everyone. It’s these relatable themes that get people talking. AHS doesn’t shy away from tough subjects like mental illness, death or sexual abuse. It faces such subjects head on, encouraging you think and discuss, something all good television should do.
American Horror Story doesn’t make its genre a hindrance; it embraces it and makes it an attribute
Discussing your favourite television shows has transformed recently, thanks to social media. If you’re not live tweeting a show you’re watching, you’re recommending it to your followers or defending it against random Twitter trolls. American Horror Story has benefited greatly from this, and it has become a main talking point in the pop culture conversation. Apart from tweets about how good looking Evan Peters is, there’s some interesting dialogue online regarding the themes of the show and the messages the creators are trying to convey in each season. Fandom is an integral part to a successful TV series, and AHS has embraced it with open arms.
American Horror Story is certainly an important show, but it’s also a victim of its own genre. The graphic material and weird imagery can be too much for some. Horror, despite its box office and cult popularity, has been shunned by highbrow award shows for decades. The prejudice against the genre can be a tricky nut to crack, but the truth is, from Hitchcock to Stephen King, horror reaches into our hearts and terrorises us from beginning to end, leaving our pulses racing. It’s emotionally stimulating and cathartic. Because not only has American Horror Story got depth in story and characterisation, but it’s scary too. It’s creepy and unsettling, but it appeals to something innate within us. American Horror Story doesn’t make its genre a hindrance; it embraces it and makes it an attribute. It’s unique. It’s the best thing on television.
All images: FX