Jun 28, 2017

[TV] American Horror Story: Season 4 (Freak Show) Review

American Horror Story is definitely rather hit or miss across its various anthology seasons. Each season presents us with some fascinating characters with rich back stories but then we get narratives that are only sometimes good but oftentimes downright bonkers. And this is par for the course for the likes of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, I suppose.

American Horror Story: Freak Show is the fourth season for the show once again featuring a somewhat familiar set of actors in a new peculiar setting. And I suppose we can all agree that things don't get much crazier than an old school traveling circus.

I've written a few times about the challenge of such Ryan Murphy/ Brad Falchuk productions running too long and thus leading the show to collapse under the weight of its ridiculous plot twists. This show has survived mainly because of its anthology format that has the creative team essentially starting from zero every time. And I am thankful for this fact.

Synopsis: American Horror Story: Freak Show is the fourth season of the horror anthology drama series. The series was created by Ryan  Murphy and Brad Falchuk and this season received the most Emmy nominations (20) versus any other chapter of the show.

It is 1952 Fräulein Elsa's Cabinet of Curiosities is one of the last traveling freak shows in America because of the rise of television and other forms of entertainment. It is owned by Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange) and her current performers are Ethel the Bearded Lady (Kathy Bates), Ethel's son Jimmy the Lobster Boy (Evan Peters), the strongman Dell (Michael Chiklis) and his wife the triple-breasted woman Desiree (Angela Basset), Paul the Illustrated Seal Man (Mat Fraser), Amazon Eve (Erika Ervin), and the tiny Ma Petite (Jyoti Amge), among others.

Enter Bettie and Dot (Sarah Poulson), Siamese twins discovered stabbed and their mother dead due to stab wounds as well. As the news makes headlines, Elsa figures that the twins would be a prime recruit for the freak show to add novelty and hopefully bring back audiences. Meanwhile a fearsome-looking clown figure (John Carroll Lynch) has been killing across the state along with kidnapping others

What I Liked: The show is great for the sheer diversity of characters in this season and the A-list talent brought in to push the show further. As this is her last run with the show, Jessica Lange was in top form and her performance of David Bowie's Life on Mars remains one of the key highlights of the season. I also loved Sarah Poulson as the twins as it was really the sort of character that gives an actress a lot of room to play around and stretch one's acting talents.

And while the Dandy arc of the story was a little weird, Finn Wittrock acts the heck out of every scene he's in. It's definitely one of those cases of portraying a character so well that I legitimately hated him for who he was and what he did in the show. The arc is a bit of a train wreck but it's a beautiful train wreck that you can't take your eyes off of and so you get sucked in.

What Could Have Been Better: Like the other seasons of the show, it also had its share of unusual plot lines and wasted character opportunities. For example, Kathy Bates had a lot of screen time but then didn't really get to do a lot of meaningful things. She had a complex enough back story and yet didn't feel like she got to be fully as Kathy Bates as she could have been, if you know what I mean.

Then you have the whole German side story behind Elsa's life that could have been interesting for back story purposes but then it felt like it ran a little long and took up too much screen time. And seriously, even the most well-meaning mother out to spoiler her son would not bring home Twisty the Clown given how disturbing he looks.

TL;DR: American Horror Story: Freak Show may not have been my favorite season but it was one with a crazy, convoluted plot and some really memorable characters. Plus this season gave us an odd link to other seasons of the show, leading to a possible AHS shared universe. And thus the season gets 4 crazy clown deaths out of a possible 5.


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