Season 6 of "American Horror Story" is finally premiering this week ... which is why it's insane that, as of press time, we still have no earthly idea what this season will be about.
In past years, FX has given us trailers, promotional posters, and an entire San Diego Comic-Con panel about the upcoming season's theme by early August at the very least. This year, all we're getting are a bunch of 15-second nonsense clips showing various horrific images, meant to keep us totally in the dark until Wednesday, September 14. Ryan Murphy did say this year's theme would involve children at PaleyFest way back in spring, but so did "Hotel" and "Murder House," and those two seasons were as different as they come.
So, yeah. It's tough being an "AHS" fan right about now, but while we wait for Wednesday's big reveal, let's take a trip down memory lane by ranking all of the seasons we've seen thus far:
I understand why Jessica Lange walked away from "AHS" after "Freak Show." I truly do. Because as grateful as I am that this season gave us Finn Wittrock, it also was the show's worst offender yet when it comes to an overstuffed plot, and Murphy's obsession with famous guest stars.
Remember when, 11 episodes into the season, a one-off character named Chester showed up, and we got two full episodes of nonsense having next to nothing to do with anything at all just so Neil Patrick Harris could chop Emma Roberts in half? Remember when they booked John Carroll Lynch as Twisty and he was terrifying, then they killed him off after four episodes to make Dandy Mott the main bad guy? Remember when they went back to Briarcliff purportedly to give a C-character an unnecessary backstory, but really just because "AHS" fans think connections between seasons are cool?
A season about a freak show dealing with A) hatred and intolerance from society and B) a murder clown picking them off one by one sounded like a great idea in theory. In practice, it was a muddled mess. Sometimes — especially in a 13-episode limited series — less really is more.
"Hotel" was just as guilty of over-stuffing and stunt-casting as "Freak Show." A lot of it seemed be nothing more than "let's throw a bunch of sex, murder, and glamour against the wall, see what sticks, and try to call it a TV show." There was a weird party of ghost murderers that went nowhere, too many time periods, a horrific anal rape scene thrown in for shock value, a super cool plot line with teen vampires that should have been awesome but then it disappeared for multiple episodes, and a tragic waste of Matt Bomer and Angela Bassett; all of these things added up to a missed opportunity of a season. Still, I give "Hotel" points over "Freak Show" for Denis O'Hare's surprisingly low-key, sentimental performance as Liz Taylor.
Thank god, now we can start talking about the good seasons of "American Horror Story."
Minus its torture-porn first scenes of Madame LaLaurie and her slaves, "Coven" wasn't nearly as scary as its two predecessors. Still, campy horror can be fun when it's done well, and "Coven" was great at balancing humor (Roberts has seriously never been better — fight me "Scream Queens" fans) with family drama, feminism, longstanding racial tensions (elevated by Lange and a fantastic Bassett), and an enthralling New Orleans backdrop.
A few of the later "AHS" issues also plagued "Coven" — remember when the Minotaur was the bad guy for a hot minute, then Gabourey Sidibe had sex with him? — and the season really suffered when it brought back way too many characters from the dead. When anybody can come back, the stakes are non-existent. Still, "Coven" was fun to watch, and Lance Reddick as the coke-fueled baby-thief Papa Legba is one of my favorite things to ever happen on the show. That, and "Balenciaga!"
Back before we knew "AHS" was an anthology series, it was just a simple show about an estranged married couple, their angsty teen daughter, their old-school glamorous next door neighbor, a murder baby, and a whole bunch of meddling ghosts. It was over the top, sure, but it also had a surprising amount of heart — though I guess I shouldn't say "surprising," since anything with Connie Britton at the helm is bound to tug at the 'strings. Moments like Violet discovering her own rotting corpse and Vivien embracing her daughter as a ghost after dying in childbirth were a firm reminder that the horror genre can be meaningful ... and if Murphy wants Season 6 to live up to the earlier years' quality, he should definitely re-watch "Murder House" to remember that sticking to a simple premise is often a solid option.
Remember when we didn't know that Sarah Paulson was one of the best actors working on television? LOL. "Asylum" was great because it was A) actually scary, it B) played around with big ideas like aliens as a metaphor for religion without diverting too much from the main plot, but mostly because it C) had an easily digestible central storyline with a badass woman-in-peril fighting back against both human and supernatural oppression.
Basically, later years of "AHS" got really caught up with creating amazing style and imagery of the caliber we saw in "Asylum" — think Chloë Sevigny's mutilated march through the elementary school playground, Paulson trying to give herself a coat-hanger abortion, and just the spot-on '60s vibe of Briarcliff itself — without doing the story and character work necessary to put together a great season.
Even the stunt-casting in "Asylum" — so Adam Levine and Jenna Dewan-Tatum, basically — was great, because these two were given the Drew Barrymore roles then promptly killed off by one of the series' father-and-son villains. There was a Stefon from "SNL"-approved hodgepodge of subplots (Nazi doctors! Aliens! A demon-possessed nun who has sex with priests!) but they all tied in to a central idea of good people fighting back against life's many horrors, and "Asylum" never forgot that Paulson was its protagonist and Lange its brutal antihero. "AHS" at its best.