Since 2011, FX’s American Horror Story has been engaging audiences and inducing shivers through its engrossing plots, complex characters, and chilling Americana-themed horrors. The series is unlike any other, and is comprised of (so far, more on that later) 9 independent seasons spread throughout different times and spaces in the AHS universe. Despite the title, the show focuses not on jump-scares but on the darkness of human nature, fate versus free will, abuse of power and dehumanization, hypocrisy and scapegoating, and dares viewers to question whether evil is always what it seems.
AHS is an anthology containing 9 seasons to date, each with its own title, characters, plot, and setting. They are as follows, in order:
However, the 10-to-13-episode seasons are so independent that viewers can watch them in any order (except for Apocalypse, which is a crossover between Murder House and Coven, with Hotel making a brief cameo). The series’ unique structure improves its versatility and eliminates the possibility of filler episodes, helping to appeal to a wider audience and keep each season concise and provocative. The shorter plotlines also helped to grow AHS’ fanbase, as watching independent seasons requires less commitment than a long-term TV series.
Furthermore, with a new season being released each year, producer Ryan Murphy is skilled at building hype and speculation towards the new season’s theme (more on that later).
The only common thread between AHS’ 9 distinct plotlines is the actors, many of whom have starred in multiple seasons. Fan favorites such as Jessica Lange, Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe, and Angela Bassett have demonstrated their ability to bring a multitude of characters to life, playing villain one season and protagonist the next. However, AHS’ tendency to showcase the evil and hypocrisy of protagonists, induce sympathy towards villains, and develop impossibly complex characters in such a short amount of time leaves viewers questioning who is truly the villain.
Americana is an important aspect of the show’s culture, navigating evil between various places in the nation’s history and geography. Freak Show takes place in the ‘50s in the small town of Jupiter, Florida; Roanoke brings viewers back to colonial America; Cult begins on November 8, 2016; Hotel is a retro Hotel California set in modern times; 1984 takes place at a traditional aerobics-era summer camp.
Regardless of how daring, fantastical, or otherworldly the plot, AHS’ consistent Americana theme makes everything hit a little closer to home for its American viewers and dramatizes very real fears and horrors we face in our family lives, our politics, our futures, our societies, and our deaths.
The Annual Release
AHS producer Ryan Murphy encourages the flourishing of the show’s fanbase through a publicity game he plays with viewers. Rather than releasing the theme of the new season once it is determined, it is AHS tradition for Murphy to slowly release “clues” through interviews and social media posts. Some of Murphy’s social media clues thus far regarding the upcoming 10th season of the show have included a poster concept, an image of a beach with the geotag set as Provincetown, Massachusetts, and other subtle and spaced out teasers that bring new speculations with every new piece of information. Murphy also chooses a false title to film the season under for tax purposes, and the false title is often a clue toward one aspect of the new season’s plot. Murphy’s traditional game with the fanbase encourages viewers to build discussion and hype around the show even when it isn’t airing, strengthening the connection between AHS fans and building excitement.
American Horror Story is a show unlike any other. It’s a timeless series that transports viewers to various times and locations in a universe that mirrors our own and examines our deepest and darkest fears, insecurities, and behaviors. Through a uniquely fast-paced and versatile structure, transformative actors, complex characters that duality of human nature, and the engagement of viewers both on and off the TV screen, AHS is a highly engrossing anthology that has earned its cult following.
You can find American Horror Story on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and YouTube.