Ranking Every Season of American Horror Story

by thethreepennyguignol

Ah, American Horror Story. Garbage? Yes. Brilliant? Yes. The next season is due out in just a few weeks, so it seems like the time to delve into the show’s, uh, mixed back catalogue – from best to worst, I’m ranking everything this show has injected straight into my veins. You can take a look at my predictions for American Horror Story: 1984 right here, and in the meantime, let’s get some opinions up in this joint!

  1. Asylum

Ah. You remember these days? When American Horror Story was a genuine prestige drama? When James Cromwell played emotionally rich Nazi doctors, and Jessica Lange delivered the performance of a lifetime as a tortured and torturing nun? And also there were aliens? And musical numbers? Asylum is just a magical coming together of both of the camp and the craft that can make this show so damn compelling – exceptional performances matched with a thematically-dense script built one of the most out-there seasons into one of the most dark, twisted, and affecting stories the show has ever told.

2. Murder House

Hey, nothing like a classic haunted house story, huh? And while this season featured some growing pains – and the first of many, many characters raped to death with a spike – it’s still got all those moving parts that make this show so watchable at its best. A bleak and brilliant sense of humour, a couple of standout performances (Evan Peters and Jessica Lange luxuriate in the outrageous silliness and scariness of their respective roles), and a commitment to the old-school spook, Murder House is the original and (not quite) best.

3. Cult

Look, I know a lot of people hate this season. Re-reading my own reviews of Cult, I sometimes think that I did, too. But looking back on it, as a whole, this is about the most fun and the most relevant the show has felt since it’s opening couple of seasons. It’s ambitious, violent, discomforting, and also claims Valerie Solanas is the Zodiac killer. And when I put it like that, yeah, it doesn’t sound like it should work. But the season’s manic spiral into cult nightmare, led by a compelling and uncanny Evan Peters in a variety of roles, was crammed with enough bold ideas to carry through even its stranger choices. Like casting Lena Dunham. Eugh.

4. My Roanoke Nightmare

Now, this earns it’s place here, so high in the list, simply because it’s actually somewhat coherent. We’re already down to the stage where even vague narrative cohesion is enough to rank it about the rest of the seasons. MRN plays with the found footage and haunted house genres, and actually lets stalwart Sarah Paulson have some fun for a change. Featuring a dual-header of anal-spike-rape-deaths, it’s got its downsides, but it’s basic ability to stick to one idea and run with it – and throw in some sly genre commentary into the mix – lands it firmly mid-table.

5. Hotel

Hotel has style. It also has little else. But man, that style, when it’s on – that’s almost worth watching if for alone. The fabulous soundtrack, the brilliant Denis O’Hare subplot, Finn Wittrock as just the slammingly slammignest hotty in all of hottiedom most fun he’s ever been as Rudy Valentino – ugh, that deliciously camp Evan Peters turn as James March, the Cary Grant from hell. It’s almost enough to make you forget about the fact that an atrocious Wes Bentley leads a big chunk of this season, and that it’s just straight lifting from Hannibal in the process, and that it features the most egregiously awful spike-rape death of the entire show’s run which somehow is actually a scale that American Horror Story lays claim to. It’s nonsense, really, but man, it’s glamorous nonsense.

6. Freakshow

As the show dragged yet another wheezing Jessica Lange dame out of the closet, American Horror Story felt like it was just fresh out of ideas. Look, here’s some gross stuff, here’s some old movie references, here’s a serial killer banging conjoined twins. What more could you want? Well, something resembling a coherent narrative would have been a good place to start. A collection of meandering subplots that usually end up going nowhere, Freakshow feels almost painfully self-indulgent in retrospect, with even the good (a one-off Michael Chiklis performance) mired in a swamp of back-patting genre imagery and Carnivale rip-offs.

7. Coven

I know so many people who love this season, and I just…I just can’t figure it out. Hot on the heels of a two-hander of awesome stories, Coven is almost a baffling drop-off in quality where everyone involved seemed to collectively forget how to tell stories that made even a scrap of sense. Opening with a gang-rape followed by, you guessed it, more people being raped to death, it’s somehow downhill from there. The use of the witches meant that every death was insubstantial, not that the notion of mortality matters much when I fucking despised every half-drawn “character”-adjacent flavour we got these witches in. Oh, fuck, not to mention the Stevie Nicks nonsense. Coven is just an indulgence in all the worst habits of the show, and even has the temerity to waste Evan Peters as a zombiefied fucktoy (no, but really) just to add insult to injury.

8. Apocalypse

How dare you. How actually dare you. I feel like I made my ire for this season pretty clear in my reviews, but there aren’t enough words on the planet to sum up my eternal and profound loathing for this: a Tumblr-gif manufacturer which took us back to the worst season (see: Coven) and then had the nerve to retcon the entire story out of being anyway thus rendering the whole painfully boring and indulgent affair a complete fucking waste of everyone’s time. No, I don’t care that Jessica Lange came back! I care that I had my time armedly robbed from me by Ryan Murphy and company, and I will stand for it no longer. Except until I come back for the next season. Yeah. Till then.

What are your favourite seasons of American Horror Story? And which ones do you think that at the bottom? Let me know in the comments below. If you liked this article and want to see more stuff like it, please consider supporting me on Patreon, and check out my movie site, No But Listen!

(header image via NME)