The second series of American Horror Story was a great success by cable standards. First and foremost, it proves that the British style of self-contained series, rather than ongoing seasons, could work in the United States. It allows for a great deal of flexibility, both for the writers – who get to come up with a new story every year – and for the actors, who get to play with new characters as part of an impressive ensemble cast. However, the show was not without its issues this year, though I admittedly loved the season.
There are always little tweaks that can be made, and as someone who watched both seasons religiously (rewatching both the initial airing and the rebroadcast, consuming AHS-centric podcasts, reading various Ryan Murphy interviews about the shows after they aired in an attempt to gather more information), I’ve put together a list of things the third season will hopefully include…
1. Don’t reach too far
Take the lessons of the second season and add them to the first season. Ratings were good, but slightly lower than the first season. Part of it is that the newness wore off some; that’ll happen. Part of it is that the show seemed to make a few mistakes this season. It was more focused in some ways, but it also seemed to be a bit too full for its own good. There were a lot of elements crammed into this season: possession, Nazis, aliens, mad scientists, serial killers, monsters… it was like a delicious stew full of too many good things. Some of the elements (the aliens) seemed to get a short shrift, and possibly could have been cut completely without losing too much of the show’s weirdness factor.
2. No more sci-fi
If you’re going to do science fiction, do science fiction completely. Yes, the genre lines between sci-fi and horror are loosely defined, but I don’t think bringing in hints of aliens really added too much to the show. In fact, it might have mooted a potential entire season arc for the show in the future (just think about it, a seventies piece set during the heights of the alien abduction frenzy with Jessica Lange as a woman tormented by aliens with Sarah Paulson as a UFOlogist? Dylan McDermott as a pot farmer who gets taken? Toss in some government conspiracy stuff with Zachary Quinto as an FBI agent and you’ve got yourself a show!)
3. Find a balance between now and then
The first season of AHS was set in modern times, with flashbacks. This season of AHS was set in the past, with a parallel, secondary storyline set in modern times. I enjoyed Bloody Face Jr. quite a bit (more on that later), but he felt like an afterthought for the bulk of the season. I could have been very happy with more Bloody Face in modern times, or I could have been happy with less of him. I understand why they did what they did, but the show felt off-balance. There were flashbacks, flash-forwards, time-skips, and enough jumps and hops and slides to make Doc Brown lose track of the time stream.
4. Bring back more Murder House cast
There’s one reason I liked Bloody Face Jr., and that’s because I got to see Dylan McDermott do crazy things. From drinking lactating hookers dry to smoking meth in a parked car, Dylan McDermott got to do some out-there stuff, and his particular brand of intensity really makes the craziness of AHS work. He’s over the top, the show’s over the top, and they all go over the top together. He was great during the first season, and even better this season. Ditto returning favorites like Frances Conroy, Evan Peters, Lily Rabe, and Jessica Lange. If you could somehow get Conroy, McDermott, Peters, Rabe, et al to play alongside Ian McShane and James Cromwell, I’d be a very happy camper. Also, bring back Kate Mara in some capacity. She’s a great yang to Taissa Farmiga’s yin. I like the introductions, and I greatly enjoyed the new cast, but I think the show needs Dylan McDermott’s crazy.
5. History’s mysteries
One of the things that worked best about this season was the setting. A creepy old insane asylum during the tumultuous sixties? Great setting and a good look for the show. The jumping about in time was also fun, if only from a wardrobe setting. I’d like to see more of it. I’d love to see the third season of AHS be a straight-up period piece. Some of the rumored settings, like the lost colony of Roanoke referenced in the first season or a Southern Gothic voodoo tale set in the nineteenth century would be incredible. The Salem Witch Trials is always a popular answer to where to take the show next, and since it comes with the ability to write such strong female characters, it seems like a natural answer. Just get Lily Rabe, Sarah Paulson, Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy, Kate Mara, and Taissa Farmiga fitted for Goody Whatshername outfits already!
6. More horror meta
One of the biggest treats of the first season was getting the chance to play “What’s that reference?” in pretty much every episode. From stealing camera shots to whole musical moments, there was a lot of horror eating itself during Murder House, and I loved it. That was such a great deal of fun for me, yet for Asylum, most of that seemed to drop away. They did have a few references, and they did use the music from Candyman, but it wasn’t as prevalent this season as it was during Murder House, and I missed it. There were ample opportunities to reference, say, Psycho or Session 9, yet the show—for the most part—refrained from going there. That needs to change.
7. A little more allegory
The first season of AHS seemed to synch in really well with the modern zeitgeist. There were references to the housing crisis, school shootings, and all that other stuff, but at its core it was about not being able to run. You can’t run from your debts. You can’t run from your past, Ben Harmon. You certainly cannot run from death, no matter how hard you may try to flee. At the end, everyone associated with Murder House, Constance aside, is dead, if not buried. There was happiness in death for some, misery in death for others, but the key point is everyone died and no one got a clean getaway; even Constance is stuck with a murdering toddler.
The second season seemed a little less referential. Set in the sixties as it was, there were plenty of real-world events for the writers to work into the story: racial segregation, the Stonewall riots, the Vietnam war, the Moon landing… instead, the show seemed to tie into none of these things, aside from Dr. Arden’s Cold War obsession and maybe the closeted state of Lana/the general struggle of women. The basic human themes of greed and lust for power were there in multiple story lines, but nothing seemed to really tie into that time period. I think that this writing staff is talented enough to do both a period piece and tie it into issues – either of the day or of today – in a neater manner. Even the most blatant example of the racism of the sixties, Alma and Kit’s marriage, is side lined Kit’s Romeo and Crazy Juliet tale with Grace.
8. Brand extension
Say what you want about Chris Hardwick, Talking Dead has been a big success for AMC and for The Walking Dead itself. The talk show gives the audience a chance to discuss the big issues surrounding the show, meet the cast and crew, and generally allows fans a voice with which to express their love/hate/etc for the programme they’re obsessed with. Knowing American Horror Story fans the way I do, I think there would definitely be an audience for an after-show wrap-up show in the style of Talking Dead for AHS on FX. I know I’d watch it; wouldn’t you? It’s an inexpensive show to create, just set up a camera and bring in some guests and do it live with an affable host.
If that’s too much, then perhaps a watch-along app akin to the one TNT does for Falling Skies. While there’s no such thing as a great watch-along app, Falling Skies might be the best of the bunch. There were games, puzzles, trivia, quizzes, polls, and little tidbits of information about the show as the show played, and it synced to the show as you watched it via your tablet’s audio. Maybe that’s too ambitious as it caused a fair few technical issues trying to synch; perhaps a watch-along app closer in style to a Rifftrax commentary. You start the app, you start the episode, and it’s up to you to keep them both running in sync; alternately, just have the app synch with the original broadcast and rebroadcast of the show and make it really easy while encouraging viewers to actually tune in live rather than DVR the show. No matter how you packaged the app, I’d still definitely give it a go to enhance my watcher experience.
Read Ron’s reviews of the last season of American Horror Story, here.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan will readily admit that he’s got no problems with FX doing nothing to the current AHS experience, but the app would be pretty cool. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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