Weekly Binge: American Horror Story

We give you what you need to know to dive into the popular shows everyone's talking about.

Welcome to the Weekly Binge, where we'll be taking a closer look at the shows that are worth your time. And by that we mean a lot of your time -- we'll be focusing on the shows that will obliterate those nights and weekends that would otherwise be spent on more "productive" pursuits (and when we say "productive," we mean "less interesting"). So without further ado, let's try to convince all the fence-sitters to take the plunge and get all caught up on American Horror Story!


American Horror Story

American Horror Story

What's it like? American Horror Story is one of the only shows on television that, much like Madonna, keeps reinventing itself every season, consistently engaging viewers regardless of their final opinion of the content. The first season, retroactively named American Horror Story: Murder House, focuses on a troubled family who moves into a house haunted by anyone who ever died on the property. The second season, American Horror Story: Asylum, moves to Briarcliff Mental Institution, where supernatural events occur regularly, and the staff is almost indistinguishable from the patients, sanity-wise.

What's it like? Creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk wanted to veer away from their previous collaborations on Nip/Tuck and Glee and indulge their darker sides. Both seasons feel like the duo made a list of things you can't show on network television for fear of sending ladies scrambling for their fainting couches, and then found a story to fit them. Beautifully shot, with fantastic production value in sets and costumes, and a talented cast to rival that of any other cable show, AHS feels like a modern continuation of Hammer horror films instead of just a cheap rip-off.

Where can I see it? New episodes began Wednesday October 9 on FX, and will continue through January 2014 at 10 p.m. EST. The next day, episodes are available on Amazon, iTunes, and Vudu, which also have both previous seasons available to stream. Netflix has season one.

How long will it take? Each episode is an hour long; season one has 12 episodes, and season two has (an unlucky) 13. That means you can knock these out in a reasonable and restful weekend.

What do the critics think? The first season is Fresh at 64 percent, and the second season topped it with a Certified Fresh rating of 79 percent. The critics seem to be aware of its over-the-top sensibilities but can't ignore its appeal. Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times calls it "a big ol' brooding, baffling, ridiculous, and occasionally compelling mess of a show," and David Hiltbrand of the Philadelphia Inquirer warns viewers that "AHS Asylum crosses a line for television... It goes beyond dark all the way to clerical black, the scourge of all light."

Why should I watch this? Put simply, it's totally berserk and there's nothing like it on television. Other horror-based shows like The Walking Dead and True Blood are certainly dark and disturbing, but the latter is just a soap opera in a black cape and fangs, while the former is more of a anthropological discussion of the human condition that happens to have zombies hanging around. American Horror Story feels like the middle ground between the two. It keeps social commentary at a minimum while still having something to say, peppered into shocking story lines and compelling emotional experiences for its characters. Although the cast has won numerous acting Emmys over the two seasons, Jessica Lange deserves a special hand for being in all three seasons and blowing minds everywhere in season two as Sister Jude. "The Name Game" episode in season two is a perfect example of the kind of mesmerizing madness that this show has become famous for, and certainly the reason I was excited to kick off Season Three.

What's my next step? Falchuk says that their inspirations for the show lie in movies like Rosemary's Baby, The Shining, and Halloween. Murphy sites the Dark Shadows television program as his influence for combining supernatural figures and soap opera story lines. Finally, if your love for the show stems from the wacky imagery, make sure to watch David Lynch's Twin Peaks.

What do you like about American Horror Story? How would you explain it to a newbie? Any big predictions for season four? Get in on the conversation here.

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