Best TV decision in recent memory: ‘American Horror Story’ to start new yarn in Season 2 (Commentary)

I loved “American Horror Story” when it first started out, then kind of cooled on it toward the end of the season. It didn’t become flat-out bad, but it wasn’t as scary and surprising as when it first started. But the recent announcement that Season 2 will feature a new cast in a new setting has me excited about “AHS” again.

Apparently the law of diminishing returns applies to a lot of producer Ryan Murphy’s shows. I found that the initially innovative “Glee” got increasingly sillier until the point where I canceled it in mid-Season 2. And I’ve heard similar testimonials from “Nip/Tuck” viewers (I never tuned into that one).

In addition to facing the hurdle of being from a creator whose big ideas tend to fizzle out, “American Horror Story” also had the challenge of being in the horror genre. In horror films, the scares tend to decrease as the movie goes along, giving way to mystery and suspense. Even with good horror films, we’re ready for it to end after a couple hours. “AHS” actually was structured exactly like a horror movie, but because of the weeklong wait between episodes, the suspense of the latter half of the season was inevitably diluted. (Also, it was hampered by the fact that none of the characters were likable and that there wasn’t a big mystery for the show to hang its hat on. The reveal that Violet was dead was pretty cool, but other than that, the plotting was straightforward and inevitable. And the penultimate episode, “Birth,” was downright difficult to sit through.)

If Season 2 were to continue with the story of the Harmons, now doing the haunting rather than being haunted, I would be done with “American Horror Story.” It would be another case of a TV series dragging on a story long after it should’ve ended.

Although a lot of people would point to “The Killing” as a show that missed its chance to have an ending, a show I like to cite as a bad offender is “Prison Break.” The concept was brilliant, and the execution in Season 1 was clever, but the story dragged past the point where it should’ve ended, and I stopped caring. The reason it kept going, of course, was that Fox wanted to milk a hit show for more ratings. If they had been braver, they would’ve ended the story after one or two seasons, then started a new story with a completely new cast in a completely new prison. Or better yet, they would’ve ended “Prison Break” entirely, but kept the entire writing and producing team on board for a brand-new series.

Murphy’s announcement that Season 2 will take place in a new location with a new cast is a brilliant move, and also the only logical move. “AHS” now has a chance to live a long, interesting life in a format that, to the best of my knowledge, hasn’t been done before: Each season is serialized, but the series in general is an anthology, with each 13-episode season being a new story.

The possibilities are endless. Season 2 could feature another haunted house, sure, but it could also feature a different subgenre of horror. The point is that Murphy’s team will still be intact to dream up a new yarn. They might even learn from their mistakes in Season 1, rather than getting mired in them as might’ve happened if they awkwardly tried to continue the Season 1 story.

As such, even though I’m definitely over the Harmons and the Murder House and all of its permanent residents, I’m excited about the next “AHS” story. Kudos to Murphy and FX for putting storytelling ahead of (old-fashioned theories about) profit. In the process, I think they may have created a new model for success — both creative and financial.

What are your thoughts on Season 2 being a fresh start? What kind of horror story would you like to see next?

Shaune's GravatarI actually echo your feelings on ‘AHS’.. as much as I wanted to love the show, something about it made it ‘meh’ for me. All my friends talked about the show like it was amazing but I never loved it.
My fear of the new season, is this.. the shows that I get ‘into’ are the shows with good characters and cliffhangers. I need something to make me want to see the next episode. (24, Jericho, Lost, etc) I am worried that having a whole new family etc, we will need to go through the first half of the season from the beginning again… learning the characters, the setting, etc.
I also worry that plot lines could be rehashed eventually.. you can only do so much with the horror genre.
But we will see, I will give it a chance and with the competition slim.. it will probably still be one of the best shows on TV.
# Posted By Shaune | 12/29/11 10:12 AM
John Hansen's GravatarLearning the characters and figuring out what’s going on is often the best part of a show, though. Once it gets those things established, the challenge is to continue to be interesting, something “AHS” Season 1 failed at. I would say give Season 2 a chance, it might surprise you by being totally different from Season 1, yet still within the wider definition of “horror.” Consider it the latest horror movie or the latest Mystery Mine Ride. It’s worth checking out once, if nothing else.
# Posted By John Hansen | 12/29/11 12:37 PM