American Horror Story: Freak Show takes place in the early 1950s in the hamlet of Jupiter, Florida. It follows Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange) and her troupe of curiosities as they struggle to fit in amongst the locals and find their place in a society where they are marginalized and exploited.
In addition to Jessica Lange, the fourth season of the popular FX horror series American Horror Story also sees several other series regulars returning, including Sarah Paulson as conjoined twins Dot and Bette Tattler, Evan Peters as Jimmy Darling, Kathy Bates as Effil Darling, and Angela Bassett as Desiree Dupree. The show has also added several new faces to the upcoming season, including Michael Chiklis and John Carroll Lynch. Lynch is a real standout amongst the new additions to the cast. He plays a creepy and sadistic clown with a toothy grin. Lynch is ever so committed to the performance and that shows in the end result. As usual, Jessica Lange is excellent. Her portrayal of Elsa Mars is thoughtful and convincing. And Kathy Bates shows great range in her performance as Effil Darling, the bearded lady.
The opening credit sequence may be my favorite of the four seasons. It is perfectly bizarre and brilliantly edited. The opening sequence really shows just how far Ryan Murphy and company want to push boundaries and delve into the taboo.
This season of American Horror Story starts out with murder, mayhem, and a healthy dose of exposition. We are introduced to a whole new batch of characters – each of them dynamic and with their own complex backstory. The pace is a bit slow thus far because the groundwork is still being laid for the events that will transpire later on in the season but there are plenty of interesting situations being set up and the cast is full of colorful characters. As such, the deliberate pace is completely acceptable.
One of the things that stood out to me in the first couple of episodes is the brilliant use of spit screen: In one of the sequences where Elsa is speaking with Dot and Bette, whomever Elsa is speaking to is put into one frame with Elsa in another. In some instances, the frame is split three ways with both Bette and Dot in separate frames and Elsa in another. It’s simple technology but the show makes very effective use of it. And it plays as a nice homage to DePalma’s fondness of the use of split screen.
Prior to screening these first two episodes, I read an interview with Ryan Murphy where he was quoted as saying that he was afraid of losing viewers this season because the show is so scary. Unless he is saving the scariest stuff for later in the season, I think that statement was merely an attempt to garner publicity for the series. Nothing about this season thus far is scarier than any of the previous three. If anything, it’s probably less frightening than its predecessors. In spite of that, season four is off to a good start and is showing a lot of promise.
Although the show isn’t terribly frightening, thus far, the effects are very impressive. Sarah Paulson’s portrayal of conjoined twins is highly realistic looking. The effects that are done practically look great and even those that employ the use of CGI are very convincing.
My biggest complaint about the current season is fairly minor: The musical numbers performed in the early episodes include a Mama Cass song from the ’60s and a Fiona Apple song from the ’90s. Since the series is set in the early ’50s, it’s a little strange to see Dot and Bette performing music from years into the future. It’s clearly a creative liberty and not a continuity error but it didn’t sit well with me.
Overall, the first two episodes of season four are showing promise and have me quite curious to see what direction the remaining episodes will go in. American Horror Story: Freak Show will premier on FX Wednesday October 8 at 10 PM Eastern and Pacific.
WICKED RATING: 8/10 [usr 8]