With the Halloween season now long behind us, it is that time of year again for Ryan Murphy to close the book on another chapter of American Horror Story and put the award-winning anthology to bed for another year.
Wrapping up clowns, Charles Manson, and carnage, season 7’s Cult ended on something of a whimper rather than a bang. Now outliving shows like Breaking Bad, Lost, and The Sopranos, Horror Story is undoubtedly entering that dangerous period where people begin to ask, “oh, is this still on?” So, as Murphy’s bloodthirsty baby enters its more mature years, should we load up the shotgun and take American Horror Story out back or is there life in the old dog yet?
THE DECLINE OF AMERICAN HORROR STORY
You only have to look at the viewing figures to see that the writing’s on the wall for FX’s flagship show. Horror Story may have renewed the show for season 8 and 9, but there no escaping the fact that Cult officially has the lowest-performing finale in the show’s history. Starting with an already average series opener of 3.93 million viewers, Cult saw a steady drop of those willing to stick with the political commentary.Although the season finale “Great Again” outperformed a low of 1.48 million for “Episode 9,” the season still limped to the grave with a disappointing 1.97 million. Compare this to a franchise high for season 3’s Coven, where 4.24 million tuned in to see Cordelia Foxx be crowned the Supreme, and there is a strong case to be made that Murphy is losing his touch.
FADING STAR POWER
Then we have the actors themselves. Cult‘s new additions like Alison Pill, Billy Eichner, and Lena Dunham all carry their own star power, but it wasn’t exactly the Hollywood Walk of Fame we have become accustomed to on the show. Rhere were still big names like Sarah Paulson and Evan Peters alongside old favorites like Frances Conroy and Cheyenne Jackson, but ultimately Cult felt it was lacking any new big names.
You can’t deny that both Peters and Paulson are carrying the show at the moment, but is that really a good thing? After starring in all seven seasons, the duo have become limited in who they can play. Paulson is a stellar actress, but is anyone else a little tired of her playing a damsel in distress who spends most of her screen time screaming into a camera? Roles like Roanoke‘s Audrey Tindall and Cult‘s Ally Mayfair-Richards pale in comparison to her earlier role as feminine powerhouse Lana Winters.
Paulson is (so far) the only cast member officially signed up for season 8, and while others will surely follow, the formula is in need of a little revamp. Sure, it is nice to spot the subtle Easter eggs or characters sharing the same name, but the Ryan Murphyverse seems to be trying a little hard to follow in the footsteps of Quentin Tarantino. It’s not that we’ve necessarily given up on American Horror Story, but it is failing to find that big hook that some of its earlier seasons had (Gaga, anyone?)
These days, it would seem that fans are too busy trying to look for next season’s clues to actually enjoy what is going on before their eyes. In fact, if you look back over Hotel, Roanoke, and Cult, the three most recent seasons have constantly divided audiences on whether they have been abysmal or a stroke of genius.
IS IT THE SAME SHOW?
Then there is the whole premise itself. Some people loved Cult and its basis in the real world, while others were left feeling that to call this American Horror Story was a very loose term. Previous seasons have always been linked to the supernatural, whereas Cult was the first in the show’s seven-season history to be based wholly on “real-life.” Season 1’s Murder House may have had subtle references to the Black Dahlia, but Cult was a veritable treasure trove of real people and crimes of modern America.Living up to its namesake, there were cults of sadistic clowns, perverse politicians, and even a Charles Manson homage, but is that what we’ve really come here for.
For most, American Horror Story is remembered for the ghosts of the Harmon house, a coven of conniving witches, James Patrick March’s hotel of horrors, and the cleaver-wielding butcher of the Roanoke tribe. While a history lesson on Mr. Manson is all well and good, it did sometimes feel like Murphy was trying to make his own twisted version of American Crime Story.
Here lies the other problem, is Murphy focussing his efforts too much elsewhere? Looking back at a pre-Horror Story era, one of the writer’s earliest ventures was Nip/Tuck. The story of gruesome plastic surgery clearly whet his appetite for the macabre, but when AHS hit screens in 2011, Murphy didn’t have anything else on his plate.
Skip ahead to 2017, and the acclaimed man behind the madness is trying to juggle American Horror Story, American Crime Story, and another round of Feud. Not to mention he is also tackling 9-1-1 and Pose, something’s gotta give somewhere. Horror Story may have been his baby, but you can’t but wonder whether he is giving up in favor of something new and more exciting.