DISCLAIMER: I’ve ended up watching every episode after the premiere and enjoying subsequent developments much more. Stay tuned for a more positive post!
In side shows, the “blow off” is the promised added attraction that lures you to the egress. It usually turns out to be lame, but it’s too late — you can’t go back in. Unfortunately that’s how I felt about the premiere episode of American Horror Story: Freak Show last night. I must confess I found myself vastly underwhelmed — so much so that I am not even really tempted to watch any more episodes.
It seems to me that the producers tipped their hand in the marketing campaign by revealing all of their freaks ahead of time. There were NO surprise reveals in the show. They should have locked that shit down! While it was thrilling to see genuine Special People like Seal Boy Matt Fraser and the World’s Smallest Living Woman Jyoti Amge among the cast, the rest of the affair was beyond tepid. We are given an enormous build up about a “monster” in the show’s opening beats and it turns out to be just a CGI two headed Sarah Paulson we’ve already known about for months?
The operative word is “exhaustion”: the show seemed to be resorting exclusively to cliches of genre, and of its own past. A scary killer clown? Have we not seen that a THOUSAND times? A bearded woman? There was one in Carnivale — a show, by the way, in which the actor playing this scary clown (John Caroll Lynch) appeared. Jessica Lange as a manipulative aging beauty at the helm of a bunch of high-maintenance personalities (except this time with stumps for legs)? Evan Peters as a sex stud (only this time with lobster boy claws)? Naomi Grossman as ANOTHER pin-head?
By now it dawns on one that – -despite the name — American Horror Story co-creators Ryan Murphy’s and Brad Falchuk’s primary interest seems to be Gothic melodrama — not horror. In the SEASON OPENER (where one expects to be wowed) I was never shocked nor horrified nor disturbed or even surprised. (Unless you call Jessica Lange singing a song from 1973 in 1952 a surprise; I call it a lack of imagination). But I’m not tuning into a show like this to see a colorful soap opera. It’s like a Douglas Sirk movie starring people with missing limbs.
Actually there IS a model to compare this to. Have you ever seen the all-midget western, The Terror of Tiny Town? Once the novelty of watching the midgets wears off (about 15 minutes in) you realize that you’re just watching a really boring western that happens to star midgets. And in this one, half the freaks are gaffed! Anyway if I ever watch this one again it will be out of professional curiosity about the human anomalies who might appear on the show — not because I have been pulled in.
In fact, you can take the last two words in the title of this review not as a noun, but as a verb in the imperative tense.