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American Horror Story Tones Down the Paranormal
... and gives us its best season in years.
My wife and I have a complex viewer-relationship with American Horror Story, the horror-anthology television series that premiered on FX back in 2011.
We like it for its edginess and squeamish creativity. We like it for its interesting characters and memorable imagery. We like that each season is (for the most part) its own unique story. And we like that it reliably features a strong cast, often with repeat cast-members taking on a different role every season.
Among our ongoing criticisms of the show is that the pervy gross-out stuff has gotten way too gratuitous. Also, the stories themselves tend to become too convoluted, with most seasons feeling as if they’ve lost their way by about two-thirds in. In fact, we’ve bailed early on a couple of them.
Yet, it’s an interesting enough show that we still find ourselves checking back in, and at least giving it a shot whenever a new season begins. Well, that’s except for last season… which we apparently didn’t even hear about, as I’m now just learning about it on Wikipedia. Weird.
Anyway, right now the series is on it’s eleventh season: American Horror Story: NYC. We haven’t finished it yet (I’m not even sure if all the episodes have dropped), but we’re pretty far in, and I must say that it’s the best one (at least of those I’ve seen) in several years.
A big reason is the casting. Though most of the cast are AHS alumni (per tradition), the two leads, Russell Tovey and Joe Mantello, are brand new. And both are so good in their respective roles that viewers genuinely find themselves caring about and investing in them (even as the audience forms growing suspicions about one).
What also elevates this particular season is that it’s perhaps the most “real” of them all. By “real”, I’m talking about its relatively little inclusion of paranormal stuff. In past seasons, we’ve seen witches, ghosts, vampires, demons, zombies, and lots of other goulish, spooky creatures. In this one, not so much.
Don’t get me wrong, paranormal themes are still represented, especially in a tarot card scene, and regular appearances by a mysterious, leather-clad, grim-reaper-esque body-builder dude (who I assume isn’t just some flesh-and-blood regular guy). But the main story (at least up until the most recent episode we’ve watched) has revolved around a serial killer targeting homosexuals in early-1980s New York, and a journalist and his in-the-closet police-detective partner trying to track him down.
There’s almost a True Detective feel to it, and since that show had its own stinker of a season, I should probably clarify that I mean that comparison to be a compliment. One review I read of AHS:NYC described the installment as having a “newfound dedication to realism,” and I think that’s a good way of putting it.
What makes the backdrop additionally interesting is the portrayed culture of homophobic indifference toward gay crime-victims from that era — a theme that was also recently explored in Netflix’s Dahmer. Coincidentally, Evan Peters, who played Jeffrey Dahmer in that series, was an American Horror Story mainstay up until last year.
Of course (and as you can probably tell from my descriptions), AHS:NYC is not for everyone. The show has long prided itself on making its audience uncomfortable, and this season is certainly no exception.
But if your familiar with how the show operates, or you like dark thrillers (like Se7en), I’d highly recommend it. And since, as I said, each season is a stand-alone story, you don’t have to first watch any of the earlier seasons to catch up.
Into American Horror Story? Which season has been your favorite?
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I searched through the ‘Daly Grind’ newsletter archives multiple times just now, because I couldn’t believe I hadn’t already featured this record. That’s because it probably has the happiest cover of any of the albums in my collection.
I mean, just look at those two chumming it up… with their smiles and sneakers and everything. It’s even called “The Best of Friends.” Awww.
Anyway, this was the final album from (Kenny) Loggins & (Jim) Messina. It’s a “best of” compilation released in 1977, featuring my favorite tune from the duo, “Danny’s Song.” It also includes “House at Pooh Corner,” which I’ve frankly always found ridiculous.
Shortly after the duo split, Loggins went solo to become the king of movie soundtracks.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading today’s Daly Grind.
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Take care. And I’ll talk to you soon!