TV Review: “American Horror Story: Freak Show” – Style Over Substance

Written by Brian Wilcox December 26, 2014

american horror story: freak show

It’s become a yearly tradition at this point to wait for fall to see what sort of setting “American Horror Story” is going to surprise us with. After a haunted house, a 1960’s asylum, and witches, it’s hard to guess where exactly the show is headed next. Early into 2014 it was announced that “American Horror Story” would be coming back as “American Horror Story: Freak Show”, and that it would be set in a carnival in 1950’s Florida. Expectations were high as the show is certainly better when it is set in the past than the present. A freak show would offer the show-runners a great backdrop for them to let loose and create some crazy ideas. Unfortunately for fans, “Freak Show” misses the mark. With only 3 episodes left to air in the New Year, this could easily change if the final episodes are very strong, but with how the season has been progressing, it isn’t looking likely.

The first real problem with “Freak Show” is that although there’s an embarrassment of riches with the acting talent they have, it almost comes off wasted because the characters aren’t fleshed out. The audience can’t be expected to connect with a lot of these “freaks” as it is, and when it takes 7 or 8 episodes to get some sort of back-story for a lot of the characters, things feel a tad underwhelming. Sarah Paulson has two heads, Kathy Bates sports a terrible accent and Jessica Lange, who has been the star of American Horror Story season after season, just seems like a pale imitation of the previous characters she’s played. Evan Peters is good, but isn’t given much to work with besides his encounters with different women, and that gets old fast. The addition of Michael Chiklis was one many were looking forward to, but even he hasn’t been able to bring a lot to the table either, leaving audiences to question why the writers decided to write so many different parts and hope to juggle them all. The most interesting character on the show is the spoiled rich kid Dandy (Finn Wittrock) and that’s really not saying much as he’s slowly become the villain character the show didn’t really need.

“We all fear that we will end up alone, that love will be pulled from us.”

Easily the most infuriating part of the show is when the characters break out into songs that weren’t even written in the time period the show takes place in. People seem to be on the fence about this, some care, some don’t, but most importantly it totally takes the viewer out of the experience. It’s jarring watching these characters, who live in 1951 all of a sudden start singing David Bowie, Fiona Apple or even freakin’ Nirvana tunes at the most random times. The performances themselves are great and are not the issue by any means, but it could have easily been songs relevant to the 50s, as that time period is rich with great music that could have been used to a fuller and more enticing effect.

american horror story: freak show

The one real bright spot of “American Horror Story: Freak Show” is the cinematography. Each episode looks fantastic, and the choice of camera angles really stands out more so than other shows. The way the cinematographers use Sarah Paulson’s two heads is an extremely creative way to not only capture just one of her heads in the frame, but it almost always relates to the way one of her two characters are feeling. There’s a cool atmosphere for all of her scenes, something “Freak Show” should try to use with the other characters as well.

american horror story: freak show

Unfortunately, cinematography isn’t enough to help save the show from it’s shortcomings and with only 3 episodes left to air one starts to question where exactly this season heading. It’s clear it’s heading towards a breaking point: bodies are dropping slowly and secrets are soon to be revealed. This would all be great if “American Horror Story: Freak Show” didn’t spend it’s first 10 episodes attempting to create a world for these characters to live in because so far the stakes aren’t very high and the tension that’s been built has yet to be really compelling. While “American Horror Story: Freak Show” can be applauded for connecting this season with it’s second season, called “Asylum”, it’s proved to be too much of a reach for not enough pay off, and feels cheap. It’s almost like they did it just for the sake of doing it. Unfortunately for everyone else, that’s how it feels to actually watch “Freak Show”.

My Rating: 6.5/10

american horror story: freak show

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About Brian Wilcox

Brian can usually be found watching movies, talking about his vinyl collection or eating Ring a Wing chicken wings. Sometimes all three at once. Follow him on twitter (@mcchub) for his ramblings and comedic genius.

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