My Problem With Freakshow

21 Jan

So if you have been reading this blog for a while now you will realize that it has been utilized for many different mediums of writing. Yes, it has been everything from a diary to a political debate platform, serving as a collection of any thought that comes to my mind whether they directly (yet always indirectly) relate to my old life in Prague. Well now the Czech It Out Blog is about to temporarily transform again–this time into a television review piece.

WARNING: SPOILER’S AHEAD

I rarely follow a television series. Usually I unexpectedly watch an episode here & there or more likely, don’t feel like sifting through that must-watch when it’s already 3 seasons deep. Most shows (& movies) nowadays feel very overrated, citing books & ‘true events’ as their inspiration. It makes me wonder: does ANYONE have an original thought anymore?! 

Then a few years ago I started watching a show that was unlike anything I had ever seen before. It was eerie, interesting & visually compelling. This show was American Horror Story.

ahs

Set in various time periods throughout the country, AHS aims to run a fictional commentary on the real-life ‘horror stories’ that happened in the United States. The opening credits alone, (different for each of the 4 seasons) are enough to chill you to the bone.

I began watching season 1, sub-titled “Murder House” & was instantly drawn in. The show started seemingly normal, a family, Ben Harmon, Vivian Harmon & Violent Harmon, move from Boston to Los Angeles to live in a massively ornate house that is believed to be haunted.

If you know me, I am sucker for humanization. I enjoy characters that are well-developed & consist of strengths yet also flaws (ya know, like actual people), & the Harmons were just that. It is revealed that their move is actually to start a “brand new life” since Vivian had previously suffered birthing a still born baby….then later walks in on her psychiatrist/teacher husband having sex with one of his students in their bed.

Whoa. 

Then don’t forget their only daughter, Violet, who wears 90s-esque thrift store gold, listens to great music…but oh yeah, cuts herself & is enticed with ‘the darkness’.

harmons

While the Harmons certainly have their issues, it is revealed that their new house certainly does as well. Every episode features revelations of the past tragedies & deaths that have happened on the property. Outside characters, Constance Langdon (a marvelous Jessica Lange as a Southern-bred nosy neighbor who has some of the best quotations throughout the entire season) & pesky Larry (an eerie man with half his body burned off who keeps harassing Ben to pay him $1,000) provide clues to the mysteries of the past.

constance

larry(Larry, a character who suffers 3rd degree burns all over his body, was the first representations of this show’s undeniable strong suit–costume & make up)

However, there was always just that mystery. Though soon it is revealed to the viewer (not necessarily the Harmons) the true curse of Murder House: once you are killed on the property you can never leave. Soon the show becomes a guessing-game of who’s dead & who’s alive. And more important how did they die. 

This idea is both terrifying & intriguing. Death is the ultimate human fear, & ghosts are a heavily debated topic. AHS humanized their ghosts. The show made them appear regretful, sad & anguished by the realization that they will be trapped here for all eternity. Well, most ghosts.

Some were just pure evil.

Evil came in the most adorable form in Tate Langdon (a highly skilled Evan Peters), a patient who begins having psychiatric sessions with Ben in the house due to the fact that he has disturbing visions of killing his classmates. Tate is the Kurt to Violet’s Courtney & the two teenagers soon begin a angsty love affair. This connection is important because it makes viewers connect with Tate…before the truth about him is revealed.

tate

Throughout the season Tate’s character shows humility & love for Violet, even rescuing her & her mother from a home invasion. However, by the end of the season 1 it is revealed to all that Tate Langdon is not only a ghost, but the spawn of Satan. During his life (in the 1990s) he lived in the Murder House with his family (Constance is his mother), began having violent visions (something that happens to the men/father figures who live in the house) & did go to his high school & kill several students in a bloody massacre (which is a direct inspiration from the infamous Columbine killings, a real-life ‘American horror story’) before the police killed him within the house.

In his time as a ghost living in Murder House, Tate continued to commit acts of pure evil. He killed the homosexual couple that lived in the house before the Harmons (featuring a fabulously sassy Zachary Quinto), he suffocates a random exterminator man under the house & oh yeah…he rapes & impregnates Vivian (his girlfriend’s mom) while donning a creepy leather fetish suit. It is also revealed that Larry’s 3rd degree burns are not a result of ‘saving school children from a burning bus’ or ‘saving his family after he tried to burn Murder House down’…but are actually the result of Tate lighting him on fire before leaving to massacre his classmates.

Yes, Tate Langdon is pure evil.

However, he is also the most sympathized character in Murder House. He can’t help being evil. & He desperately wants to change because of his love for Violet, but he just can’t. Tate is the anti-hero, much like Walter White from Breaking Bad. Both characters, at one point, lived normal respectable lives, however, circumstances caused them to viciously morph into truly terrible people who do awful things but we still root for them to win. It is a very complex character type that rarely exists in today’s television shows.

This character type alone that makes Season 1 of American Horror Story so well-developed. However, creator Ryan Murphy (who also created Nip/Tuck & Glee) soon bit off way more than he could chew. He said each season of the show would keep most of the same actors/actresses…but would be set in different time periods.

This was a confusing concept. While I love Jessica Lange, Evan Peters & Sara Paulson…it is hard imagining them as brand new characters every single time. Especially when Murphy really had no new ground-breaking ideas.

Season 2 brought us Asylum, a promising concept (actually based on the Bridgewater, Mass., mental hospital…Google that for a real horror story), but way too many plot derivatives. Sure, go with the whole Cuckoo’s Nest idea of ‘these people are more than what society says!’ but when you throw in Nazis & aliens (still so upset over that, Ryan, you know better) you lose an audience reallllllllll fast. Although I know a lot of people who think this was the best season, & maybe I never really gave it a fair chance…Asylum just cannot live up to Season 1 for me.

Season 3 Coven brought us down to New Orleans for a little witch craft & voodoo. Introducing the marvelous Kathy Bates as an undead racist socialite & the so-annoying-yet-so-good-at-being-bitchy Emma Roberts, this season pretty much lost the idea of a good old fashioned scare. Coven relied more on humor than previous seasons, & the ‘horror’ of the show came from disturbing sick imagery including decapitation, & how could we forget Precious, herself, Gabourey Sidib being raped by a Minotaur. Most of all Coven tried to cover too many ideas at once, & audiences were left with not really knowing any character too deeply, therefore it wasn’t sad when they died…which wasn’t even permanent…since it seemed everyone could easily come back from the dead with Lily Rabe’s swamp witch magic. Yawn.

Season 4 Freakshow, I wanted to believe in again. I wanted to sit down & really give each episode a chance & really try to get to know the characters. Set in one of the last remaining ‘freak shows’ in the US, the cast includes several actors & actresses will real-life maladies. I love this. Even though they were technically being hired to play stereotypes, I hoped that season 4 would humanize these people & show audiences a different side.

I was met with mixed results.

Tonight is the finale episode & I am very lukewarm on American Horror Story: Freakshow. It is by far Jessica Lange’s weakest role, reciting played out lines in a German accent…lines so similar to her previous roles. Even Peters is reduced to lobster boy, Jimmy, a man who is trying to be ‘the hero’ whatever that means. Sarah Paulson is Emmy-worthy as Bette & Dot, conjoined twins (bravo again, make-up & costume team!) with two very different personalities. And most of the other characters only have a few shining lines before they fall back in place.

The writers gave up.

The only real hope so far for me has been Twisty, a killer clown who is terrifying, Dandy, a spoiled rich brat with a murderous God-complex, & Chester, a psychotic magician who is obsessed with a puppet played by a wonderful Neil Patrick Harris. These three characters have made Freakshow anything of true value.

And what did the writers do to them? They killed my beloved Twisty off, they don’t give Dandy enough screen time, and they waited until the very last second to introduce Chester.And there is nothing else supporting this show.

Watching each episode is like a chore. Characters feel foreign & do uncharacteristic things, the plot has been thrown out the window & people die left & right for no real reason other then Ma Petite must have some other prior commitments she needs to get to.

Tonight I will of course watch the Freakshow finale, however, it seems like the real ‘horror story’ is the painful death of my favorite show.

JG 😦

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