New Character, New Life: An Exploration of the Anthology

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: COVEN - (L-R): Jessica Lange as Fiona, Emma Roberts as Madison, Jamie Brewer as Nan, Taissa Farmiga as Zoe, Gabourey Sidibe as Queenie -- CR. Michele K. Short/FX

Let’s face it, television is not the same as it was 10 years ago. Hell, maybe even 5 years ago. People have always loved television, they’ve always watched it, and they probably always will. But it’s 2015, we live in a digital age now and, like it or not, the “digital” part will make it so television is never the same. It seems that in 2015, the writing for television is at a high. Sure, there are still shows that get cancelled all the time, and there are some bad eggs here and there. But with those bad eggs have come a colorful assortment of newer shows. It seems that television has started to win over some of the bigger stars in the film business. A perfect example would be a little lady named Jessica Lange (pictured above). Lange won an oscar and has/still does many movies, but once she joined American Horror Story (also pictured above) everything seemed to have changed for her. She was now known to a younger audience, but she still had a name for herself in film. It was a perfect balance. And now, Lange is no longer on American Horror Story after four seasons of rich and complicated characters (even though Ryan Murphy, the creator, has said she may return for a few episodes in the latest season).

Something that seems to attract actors and actresses so much to television in this current age is the fact that the writing has improved over time, especially with drama television. But also, going back to how technology has changed the way we watch, we have different ways of watching television now. It seems as if less and less are watching straight up cable television and more of Netflix originals like Orange is the New Black or Bloodline (both very good by the way), or even Amazon seems to have started it’s own thing with Transparent. Every one of those shows are all amazing and unique in their own ways. I think part of that uniqueness and love comes from the freedom that the writers and the filmmakers have because you can really show almost anything on Netflix or Amazon, or non-cable channels that have lasted longer, like HBO. There is also a different viewing experience for the audience, in the way that for Netflix we get all 13 or so episodes released all at once and it leads to an insane amount of binge watching. Look, I know that you’ve probably read or heard about all this before from someone else or some other blog. Truth of the matter is, I find it very interesting and a new leaf for television. But let’s move on to what is really the center of this post; anthologies.

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From my viewing experience, the idea of an anthology tv show is a rather recent exploration. A lot of people like to say that American Horror Story is the show that started it all, but I like to think there was something else that started it before that. I do think that American Horror Story is the show that really started the phenomenon for the modern anthology. Now four seasons in and close to starting it’s fifth, we have shows like Fargo and True Detective that are using the same kind of formula. The real question is … does this formula work? My answer? Sometimes.

I think the most recent sort of “downfall” for an anthology was shown in the second season of True Detective. It just recently aired it’s finale and people aren’t as happy with it as they were with season one. Fans of the show weren’t even on bat with the season from the premiere because it was such a departure from it’s first season. And as much as I did semi enjoy the first couple of episodes in the second season, the end was messy and confusing. That said, I wasn’t the biggest fan of season one either, for me the writing is a little jumbled but wants you to think that it’s really good. What can be the hardest part with an anthology is that if you have a first season that is beloved then you never know if people are going to warm up to the second season as much or even at all because you have a completely new set up with new characters. Now, I want to do a BIG example using American Horror Story because I think it’s the show that has the most vastly different seasons and is always fun to talk about.

So, for example …

American Horror Story: Season By Season

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Season 1: Murder House

The season that started it all was the season that gave the show a good name for itself and also literally fans started subtitling it Murder House (since it originally didn’t have a sub name). This is the season that I probably have the best memories watching because it was the one that really got me hooked to the show. It was unlike any other show that was on that year and I was obsessed. Murder House uses the same old haunted house story and puts a really messed up twist on it. The most memorable character for me is probably Constance played by Jessica Lange. She had a certain inappropriate sense of humor about her and it was always fun to see her on screen.

Favorite Episode: Home Invasion. This was that episode with the crazy killers and I remember it being the most terrifying episode in the entire season because it was just put together so well. The opening scene is set in the 70’s, and it is amazing …I’m just saying.

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Season 2: Asylum

When I finished Asylum, I remember really not liking it. My experience with this season is what I believe happens with this type of show currently, when the show moves on to the next story the hardcore fans of the first season aren’t always ready to move on to new things. My view was that mixed with not really understanding the whole concept of an anthology. It also didn’t help with the fact that they were using a large portion of the cast from the first season. When I watched the first episode I thought that Sister Jude was still Constance and was very confused with the fact that this season was set in the 60s. Matter of the fact is, I really didn’t know what I was diving into. But not too long after I had finished that season, I decided to go back and rewatch it. When I rewatched all thirteen episodes I found I wasn’t caught up in all the buzz of each episode and I somehow understood it better. I immediately fell in love with the weirdness of it and the pure grimness of it. And to this day it is my favorite season of American Horror Story, because it seems like it was at it’s richest and the fucked up/odball factor was notched up to 100. The characters were rich and interesting (Lana Winters anyone?), and Asylum will always be the most memorable season for me.

Favorite Episode: Madness Ends. Like I mentioned above, this is my favorite season as a whole, so I really didn’t dislike any episode. But, the end of Asylum has to be my favorite because not only were all my favorite characters given amazing endings but a good chunk of the many plot lines in the season were tied up in the previous episode so we didn’t have to deal with so much in one episode. The episode mainly focuses on Lana Winters and her rise to fame and shutting down Briarcliff. We also get a mother to son scene that is creepy on it’s own. Everything was neatly tied up in the end and was really a perfect close to a roller coaster ride of a season.

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Season 3: Coven 

I have VERY mixed feelings about this season. It is easily the campiest season of them all, and you can tell that’s what they were trying to go for in Coven. The comedic twist on the writing works a good amount of the time (“surprise bitch … I bet you thought you’d seen the last of me”), but it seemed like more than not they tried too hard to make it campy and didn’t focus enough on the story. I really enjoy the first half of this season. It’s not too messy yet and it’s fun to watch. I really liked the witch aspect of the show, and the New Orleans setting really gave the show a new flavor it never really had before. It seems like this particular season was the most Ryan Murphy-esque season of them all. It felt like he was incorporating the kind of comedy that worked on Glee for a couple of seasons. But once you get to episode eight or nine the writers tried to incorporate so many different plot lines that it was exhausting. Even worse, they didn’t resolve half of them, and the finale was a huuuge disappointment. Nonetheless, I still respect what they were trying to do with Coven, and I can still enjoy most of the season in all it’s campy glory.

Favorite Episode: Bitchcraft. Like I’ve said, the beginning of Coven had the most promise with it. Not only was the cinematography in this episode beautiful and interesting to look at, but it’s the simplest episode of the season. The wonderful Kathy Bates and magnificent Angela Bassett were barely in this episode, and even though I loved both of them in the season, it was nice to have an episode where they weren’t the main focus. This episode focuses mainly on Jessica Lange’s fabulous Fiona Goode, who is the bitchiest of the bitchy … in the best way possible! Even though I don’t love a certain gang rape scene, the episode is very strong. Besides, who doesn’t love a good ole killer vagina? I apologize if you haven’t watched the show and don’t understand my joke.

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Season 4: Freak Show 

Talk about disappointment! I built this season up waaay too much when all the teasers were being released and small details were being leaked. I was excited for the show to travel back in time again, and this time they were going even farther back than they did in Asylum. But in the end, Freak Show ended up being messier and more disappointing than the previous season. Freak Show was a pro at setting up story lines and not following through, it had to be the most annoying factor of the show and it was happening in every episode. Sure, I really liked certain aspects, but the bad over shined the good. I thought Coven was a disappointment of a finale but I didn’t even know there could be more disappointment until I saw this finale. The other thing was the characters … I didn’t fall in love with any of them! None of these characters were likable (okay maybe Ma Petite is an exception, but she was killed off in like the fourth episode!!), and none of them really went anywhere. It may sound like I really hate this season, but I don’t. If anything it’s majorly disappointing, and it annoys me how disappointing it is because this season had so much potential, and it just didn’t follow through.

Favorite Episode: Show Stoppers. From the way I talked about Freak Show in my description above, it seems like I wouldn’t like any episode from the season, but that’s not true! Don’t worry, I liked parts/ideas that the season had, I just didn’t like the aftermath and mostly everything else about it. Episode twelve really should have been the finale because it felt the most exciting and it would’ve been perfect to end it on a good note rather than fuck it all up with more nonsense. Unfortunately that was the case. But it’s okay because the opening scene to this episode is probably the best scene of the whole season combined (even though seeing Dandy’s bare ass all season was pretty great). Borrowing from 1932’s Freaks (which seems to have been the writer’s inspiration throughout the season), is a dinner scene where a certain character is brutally murdered and it’s wonderfully built up and chilling. I was biting my nails with anticipation throughout that whole scene and it delivers beautifully. As far as I remember, there is very little Dandy in this episode as well, which if we’re going to be honest with ourselves is probably for the best (Dandy was annoying as hell and we all know it).

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I know, I know that whole “example” may have looked like an excuse for me to just talk about American Horror Story. And while that might be a little bit true, I also do think that series is a good way to show how the idea of an anthology series really works. While there are quite a few shows that have used this method now, I like to wonder if there are going to be more shows like this in the future.

I love television more than ever at the moment, and I think a lot of the world does too. Writing and acting is definitely a big portion of it, and I hope to see more A+ writing for tv in the near future.

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Thank you for taking your time to read my rambling/opinions on television, movies and all! I always enjoy writing about anything film, television, and even books! So feel free to voice your opinion or just let me know what’s up in the comments! And don’t forget to follow me for notifications whenever I post something new!

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Have a great rest of your week!!

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