Saturday, February 16, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—American Horror Story: Asylum (2012-13) ****

TV-MA, 13 47-min. episodes
Creators: Brad Falchuk, Ryan Murphy

Directors: Bradley Buecker, Michael Uppendahl, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, David Semel, Michael Rymer, Michael Lehmann, Craig Zisk

Writers: Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, Tim Minear, James Wong, Jennifer Salt, Jessica Sharzer, Jeremy Podeswa

Starring: Zachary Quinto, Joseph Fiennes, Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Lily Rabe, Lizzie Brocheré, James Cromwell, Jessica Lange

Guest starring: Chloë Sevigny, Adam Levine, Jenna Dewan Tatum, Clea Duvall, Britne Oldford, Naomi Grossman, Frederic Lehne, Devon Graye, Robin Weigert, Andrew Rothenberg, Gloria Laino, Mark Consuelos, Mark Englehardt, Joe Egender, Barbara Tarbuck, Matthew John Armstrong, Joel McKinnon Miller, Franka Potente, Mark Margolis, David Chisum, Amy Farrington, Nikki Hahn, Frances Conroy, William Mapother, Sean Patrick Thomas, Ian McShane, Jennifer Holland, Lana Harris, Chris McGarry, Jill Marie Jones, Dylan McDermott, Brooke Smith, Camille Chen

While the first stand alone season of “American Horror Story” told one basic type of horror story—that of a haunted house that was gathering ghost residents at a staggering rate—the second stand alone season “American Horror Story: Asylum” took on several different subgenres of the far reaching horror genre. It’s a slasher story, a mad scientist story, a possession story, a fallen faith story, and an alien invasion story, not to mention it is set in one of those favorite horror story settings, an insane asylum. They pulled out all the stops for “Asylum”. It makes me wonder just what they have left to explore in future seasons.

I have to say; I really like the producers’ format of telling a stand-alone story with each season but keeping much of the same company of players. Jessica Lange, who was good in the first season, was particularly good as a nasty nun with good intentions this season. I also liked seeing Zachary Quinto, Lily Rabe and Sarah Paulson get cracks at leading roles. Evan Peters, who was so good as the mass school shooting killer in season one, shows an even broader range this time around as the alien abductee who is pegged as a serial killer. I also loved the Massachusetts accents, which were wonderfully realized by the talented cast members who got stuck with them.

 This season also improved upon the first with a much stronger ending. The first season seemed to go on one episode too long. The last episode seemed to spin its wheels with some repeated material and some hesitation to get to its resolutions. This season, I very much feared that would be the case again when they seemed to start wrapping things up for many characters with four episodes left to go. Instead, the creators allowed themselves to take some valuable time with the three leading character’s story lines and developed some great satisfying resolutions for them. This season didn’t end quite as dark as the first season did, and some of the larger forces at work, like the demonic presence and the aliens were left aside for the more personal stories, but perhaps that is where they will cull some future stories.

It’s shocking to see a show this horrific on television, but it’s also a lot of fun. The way creators Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy have structured the series seems to promise that it will also stray fresh for quite some time. I can’t wait for season three.

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