This show has a format I had never heard of before--an anthology where each story is a season long. Several of the season one actors returned for season two, playing totally different characters, which was something I liked. More than the anthology format or the actors playing different roles, American Horror Story is defined by the fact that it tries to combine too many things into one narrative, making a huge mess that can’t help but delight you.
The first season was written worse and it was obvious the writers were coming up with twists and revelations on the fly; on the other hand, there was only one source of mayhem. The Harmon family had moved into a house where a ridiculous number of people had died, and over time, a bunch of ghosts appeared and did different things. There were all kinds--gay ghosts, disabled ghosts, nurse ghosts, a baby ghost, and even a handsome ghost who shot up his high school and (in the most disturbing twist of all) amassed a tumblr fanbase of teenage girls who were angry that the ghost’s love interest wouldn’t forgive him for killing people. I’ve barely spoiled anything, as I only listed about 10% of the total ghosts in the house. Wherever you looked, there was a new ghost, and it was hard to make it five minutes without laughing.
The second season was less immediately appealing to me because it takes place in an “insane asylum.” I’ve written before about my frustration with this setting--it draws on the fear of crazy people to make itself more interesting, but invariably, the heroes and villains are not crazy and we only see crazy people tottering around in the background wearing straitjackets. (This season has pretty much done what I expected--although, as with last season, Ryan Murphy makes an admirable effort to portray and condemn discrimination against people with developmental disabilities.) Also, I just don’t personally find asylums as appealing as a haunted house.
I kept watching, though, and found that the second season was actually somewhat well written and not entirely ridiculous. This time around, the story seems like it’s actually been planned out a little, and all the point of view characters are interesting and likable (with an apparently villainous character coming around to be one of the heroes). On the other hand, there are way too many kinds of monsters. We get the spooky asylum with some “criminally insane” patients, demon possession, murderous mutants, a serial killer, and aliens, all introduced in the first few episodes. It’s too bad because the story would be perfectly fine with a few of these elements removed, and it seems like there aren’t even going to be any remaining tropes for Ryan Murphy to use in the third season. Is he afraid the show’s going to get canceled and he has to use everything now?
If he is afraid of that, I don’t know why he would be. As far as I can tell the show is pretty popular, and understandably so because it’s one of the most relentlessly entertaining things I’ve ever seen.