‘American Horror Story’: The Best Show on Television?

american-horror-story-asylum-unveils-first-look-at-charactersThis post is spoiler free. 

Sure, Dexter, Homeland, Game of Thrones and Mad Men are worthy competitors, but it’s time to face the facts: American Horror Story is the best show currently on TV.

There. I said it.

Horror may not be everybody’s bag, but Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story has been consistently delivering all the goodies these other shows have been dishing out and more. More zombie-monster things! More aliens! More World War 2 Nazi Evil Mad Doctors!

It sounds batshit crazy to deem a show like this TV’s reigning champion, but it’s time Horror started getting its due. Horror TV had always been a cult phenomenon. Shows like The Twilight Zone, The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer broke industry boundaries and paved the way for the television landscape we see today. Oftentimes, they never garnered the proper cred and respect they deserved until way later. In fact, shows like Dexter, True Blood, the upcoming Bates Motel, and more, simply wouldn’t have existed over a decade ago. Thanks to these pioneers, Horror has now bridged the gap between “cult fave” and  the “mainsteam.” Horror TV is here and people love it, and thanks to the creativity of American Horror Story, it’s being taken to an entirely new level.

This season’s Asylum edition of AHS has been a wee bit convoluted at its worst; at its best, it has been a beast harnessing some of the best writing and acting of 2012. This season’s plot surrounds Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) and the patients, doctors and nuns who occupy an institution for the criminally insane called Briarcliff Manor. It’s a completely new american-horror-story-asylum-poster1storyline from Season 1, yet like its predecessor, the story operates on multiple timelines, jumping back and forth from 1964 to the present. Some of Briarcliff’s inhabitants are morally twisted, like the evil Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell). Others are unjustifiably thrown into the asylum, like Kit Walker (Evan Peters) and Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson), two characters who are trying to right the wrongdoings that put them there. They’re completely sane…or is Briarcliff ridding them of their sanity? Lange’s character this year lies somewhere in between the Good vs. Evil power struggle of the asylum. For Sister Jude, life at Briarcliff is a bit more…complicated. Oh, and then there’s that pesky Devil romping about.

As a result of its ambition and complexity portrayed through the show’s morals, graphic violence and simultaneous plot lines, the show should be a mess. Thanks to Murphy and his writing team, American Horror Story has avoided getting lost in its own insanity, balancing characters and action nicely and knowing when to wrap up certain character’s tales (see: last night’s episode! Hot damn!).

The acting is just as jaw-dropping as its blood and gore. Jessica Lange’s performance in last night’s “The Name Game” was probably one of the best performances I’ve seen. Ever. Her character’s transformation is rather spoilerific, but it’s an acting feat that cannot be missed for any fan of fiction. She deserves every award in the book for this performance. Hell, we need to just make up fake awards and throw ’em at her. The Jessica Lange Award for Best Acting in a Mini-Series…presented by Jessica Lange. And the winner is: Jessica Lange. And us, of course.

Though Lange is the lead first and foremost, the cast is most definitely an ensemble. She’s surrounded by skilled professionals, most notably Lily Rabe, who plays two characters in one as the devil-possessed Sister Mary Eunice; the aforementioned Cromwell; and Frances Conroy (Six Feet Under) who co-stars as the Angel of Death. Week after week, these actors churn out performances that are…well, to die for. Cheeky, but true.

There’s a lot happening on TV right now. With cable networks producing more and more bankable products like The Walking Dead, Mad Men, and Sons of Anarchy, it’s often hard to break through such stiff competition. But American Horror Story is so unique in its storytelling and design that it must be celebrated. And it’s so refreshing to see such twisted perversion on the small screen without ever sacrificing character or quality.

Grade: A

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