Ryan Murphy’s horror anthology series, American Horror Story, has been going strong since 2011, and encompasses nine unique seasons that have high points and low points; but how do the seasons rank?
The very vocal fanbase has their opinions, of course, though there is no doubt that pros and cons can be attributed to all nine in some fashion. However, Murphy’s series has managed to chalk up an impressive amount of awards, accumulate some major stars to take both leading and supporting roles in the series, and will likely premiere his landmark tenth season of American Horror Story sometime in fall 2020.
Though there has been talk that the tenth season could be American Horror Story’s last, there have been a lot of highs and lows of the previous nine, though none of them could ever be considered an abject failure. Here is our ranking of every season so far.
Surprisingly, Cult did well with critics, though fans tend to dislike this series on the whole. It didn’t receive the lowest ratings of the series, but its biggest failure was Murphy’s decision to capitalize on the U.S. Presidential Election in 2016. Prospective viewers were skittish when Murphy made an announcement that he was going to make a character based on Donald Trump. Cult tried to look beyond the scope of 2016 by making interesting commentaries on the cult mindset, and had Peters play nearly every historical cult figurehead known to man. Peters and Sarah Paulson are wildly talented, but didn’t need to carry the whole season on their own.
Apocalypse was a highly-anticipated season due to it being the crossover between Murder House and Coven that Murphy had teased for years. While it was interesting to see how Michael Langdon, the series‘ Antichrist, came to be an adult, the post-apocalyptic setting was boring and the set-up to get to the real meat of the story – the crossover with the witches from Coven – took way too long. While there were memorable characters in this season, they were mostly memorable because they were beloved from other seasons, not because they were truly unique to this one.
Freak Show was a somber experience for many fans of the series because it marked the imminent departure of mainstay (and fan favorite) actress, Jessica Lange. While Lange cites this season as one of her personal favorites, its lovable cast of misfits weren’t enough to save the season from feeling like it had gone completely overboard and lost many of the truly horrific elements that makes American Horror Story what it is. Plus, with all the singing, it sort of felt like a strange crossover with Ryan Murphy’s previous series, Glee.
Roanoke not only had a creepy premise and some truly terrifying villains, but was also an interesting take on an exploration of the meta. Murphy’s ’show within a show‘ angle brought forward quite a welcome twist that kept fans guessing, and allowed actors to play multiple roles (in a sense) without it feeling oversaturated, as has been the case with other seasons. While the dark brutality of Roanoke doesn’t make it one of the strongest installments, it was a welcome return to horror, which is what the whole show is supposed to be about.
Hotel felt experimental, and in a way, it was. After Lange’s departure from the series, Murphy snagged pop star Lady Gaga (who went on to have an impressive acting career with films like A Star Is Born) to help lead the new season. Full of opulence and glamour, Hotel’s premise and characters were intriguing and sometimes, downright lovable. The plot got murky sometimes, with too many storylines running concurrently in a way that was difficult to keep track, but overall, this was a strong reset for the series, and set the pace for the back half of the show after one of its main stars left big shoes to fill.
1984, though it had an impressive marketing campaign, didn’t seem to get the hype that other seasons have gotten in the past, nor the interest. In actuality, this season was the least-watched of the series to date, but in a way, that works in its favor. The sub-genre it emulates, the 80s slasher, was poorly received by critics for years. Many didn’t understand the need for blood, guts, and sex in such excess. But 1984 took on the slasher theme and did it justice. There were some aspects that were a bit out of the box, such as Richard Ramirez (the real-life serial killer) being a primary character who murdered Kajagoogoo, which speaks to Murphy’s tendency to rewrite history, but overall, it was a strong effort with characters that went outside of their trope-heavy roles.
Murder House was the show’s first season, and thus, set the pace for what would follow. Therefore, if this was a weak entry, it’s likely the season wouldn’t have its current popularity and longevity. Murder House does a lot right that other seasons haven’t quite been able to touch, such as its ability to juggle multiple plot lines without it seeming tedious and its well-rounded cast that doesn’t lean too heavily on any one player. It truly was an ensemble feat, and a scary one at that. Murder House’s only major crime was not being able to compare, retroactively, to the two seasons that followed it, which are most people’s picks for best in show.
„On Wednesdays, we wear black.“ While this wasn’t the exact line uttered during the show’s iconic third season, it was an intentional co-opt of the popular line from Mean Girls which set the theme and pace for the season on the whole. Coven brought girl power, witchcraft, history, depth, and Stevie Nicks in a star-studded season (Angela Bassett and Kathy Bates‘ involvement with the series began here) that was performed flawlessly with Lange at the helm as the coven’s Supreme. One of the highest rated, most beloved, and award-winning seasons, it only felt short by feeling more like a dark comedy than a true horror show, which one other season did perfectly.
Asylum has not only won the most awards of any season of American Horror Story, but it serves as a stand-out season for every major alumni actor in the cast: Jessica Lange, Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, and Lily Rabe. Beyond that, it juggled multiple storylines – which the show is known for doing – seamlessly well, and even handled time jumps without much confusion. Asylum embraced extraterrestrial horrors with real-life ones such as homophobia, conversion therapy, and racism, and explored a period of time where people were persecuted and institutionalized for personality traits that weren’t even criminal. It combined sub-genres, such as body horror and serial killers, and was a truly dark, gloomy season with the occasional bout of levity that made it feel like it truly belongs in a horror anthology. There’s little negative to say. Asylum might be as close to perfection as the series will ever get, as its remained on top with most fans for nearly a decade.
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