I always give American Horror Story the old college try each season. When it’s on, its indulgences inveigle the narrative. They distract you from the expected unmaking of the bed you’re soon to be murdered on. But often the preening self-awareness invites you not to “Look over there,” but rather to “Look at that, why don’t you!” And it’s easy to go “I’d rather not.”
Sometimes it’s not for me. I’m not alienated by the show’s agenda like many of my fellow nerds on the internet. I have certain tastes and expectations for the limited time I have to devote to media consumption, and if you like something that I don’t it doesn’t mean you have terrible taste. And sometimes I’m just wrong. I don’t /get/ some things until I’m dragged in kicking and screaming and come face to face with how off I was. Scream Queens seemed an intolerable retread of Ryan Murphy’s greatest hits, until I viewed it like I was supposed to: comedy horror. There were some groans, swerves for the sake of swerves, and I wasn’t quite satisfied with the uncovered mystery, but it was a good time over all.
Previews of the next season of that show bring to the forefront issues with the aging American Horror Story. Oh look, they’re back in an insane asylum. Oh it’s another starlet from the 80's/90's looking for career resurrection.
The documentary format of Season Six is novel, although in my mind there are quite a few wires crossed from watching ESPN’s “Made In America” not too long after watching “American Crime Story.” Unfortunately not much else feels like anything but a retread. The creeping familiarity doesn’t preclude an enjoyable experience, but does play like a greatest hits collection more so than its own new work. Certainly haunted houses, hospitals, hotels, witch covens, and circuses are not completely new horror experiences, and the show has worked as an anthology and pastiche.
Each season does not limit itself to one set of tropes and conventions either. Murder House mixed in the realistic terrors school shootings, home invasions, and sexual assault with the phantasmagorical. Asylum had aliens, hippies, zombies, and more locked up within its walls. Hotel included drug fiends, vampires, serial killers, ghosts, and such. So American Horror Story is rarely focused, but questions about the narrative exist when so many cards are played so early on. There exists the opportunity for the unexpected, but with so much going on that may very well not exist. Murphy and co. are like kids who have all the toys (or like adults who buy every video game they want now that they’re an adult and no one can tell them not to) and thus can very easily leave things unexplored.
Much of this would be forgivable, except that the preview material showed much promise with its take on familiar and presently untapped horror classics. Instead of another creepy doll to play with or a merman or arachnophobia, we get a docudrama about yet another couple who might be crazy, and who have bought yet another fixer upper. Oh, there are more hillbillies and probably their relative, the bumbling policeman, who don’t like that they’re a nontraditional couple. Here comes his sassy sister to offer her take on the boojie excess of her in-laws.
It’s too soon to jump to any conclusions, but I think we’ll know very quickly whether or not we are wasting our time this go around.