To describe American Horror Story as “good” would show a severe misunderstanding of the word, and to describe it as bad would be discrediting to all the good parts of it. In short, American Horror Story is a bizarre combination of weirdness and ineptitude, leaving viewers with one of the most bizarre shows on television.
Almost nothing on AHS works in the way that it should, and I love it for it. It’s because of this schizophrenic mixture of amazing things stemming from unintended awfulness that we get a great cast of characters.
These are the seven best characters on American Horror Story, for reasons that are often as nuts as the show itself.
The first season of American Horror Story is based around a haunted house, which makes finding a gimp suit the first, actual surprise in a pilot episode that featured two redheaded twins getting their throats torn out by a demon child. That’s what I mean when I say that nothing in AHS works the way that it should. Either this is the greatest piece of satire ever conceived or the creators of the show are just as confused as we are about where it’s going. If you asked an AHS writer to create something emotionally resonant, they’d ask you why you were such a bully.
The man in the gimp suit became the mascot for the first season of AHS, which is a beautiful sign of the times. And I don’t mean that with any sort of sarcasm. It pleases me to see, next to all the American Dad DVD’s, twenty copies of something popular with a gimp suit on it. Usually, I’d have to go to a much nastier video store or wait for the best part of Pulp Fiction in order to get my yearly quota of BDSM gear, but it’s as if the costume department had one left over piece of clothing (erotic latex) and decided “Well, fuck that. We’re wasting nothing.”
There’s a whole twist as to who the Rubber Man is, and I don’t want to spoil it by giving out the character’s name, so I’ll leave you with a hint: it’s the most annoying person on the whole first season. You know who I’m talking about.
I first encountered Jessica Lange when Charles Grodin was telling her why King Kong wanted to have sex with her. I later saw her wondering why Nick Nolte didn’t want to have sex with her in Cape Fear. Then, I see her on AHS, exuding creepiness and spiders and making fun of her mentally disabled child. Her performances in both seasons (though we’ll get to the second one later), is the perfect example of everything AHS represents: what the hell did I just watch? Seemingly happy one minute and hissing the next, watching her slink around the room and insult everything for seemingly no reason is the most fun part of an ensemble that seems mostly derived from the casting call on the set of a Turbo Tax commercial.
I hate to like things ironically. But regardless of my attempts to like things that I actually like, “Sussudio” is still one of my favorite songs and guys, the 90’s X-Men cartoon was so good, right? I like Ben Harmon’s character so sarcastically that I’m not even sure I could read this sentence out loud. Dylan McDermott plays Ben like his number one inspiration was Bicentennial Man. His reactions and emotions are all laughably ill-timed. You have to constantly wonder whether he’s trying to perform a scene or just mock the other actors.
At no point does Ben seem to emote the right way. He loves crying though, that’s for sure. Half of his dialogue just ends with (begins sobbing.) He cries in arguments, he cries when masturbating, he cries just to prove to himself that he can, and will, at any time. Remember how your teenage theatre class took being able to cry on cue as the sign of being a good actor? Well shit, Dylan. Looks like you just got the lead in Our Town.
AHS needed a mad doctor character. Not for any particular reason, but if the creepiest things on a show are Jessica Lange and, later, another Jessica Lange, anything less than stitching body parts back together is going to seem like a Valentine’s Day episode. Charles Montgomery is the perfectly stereotypical crazy surgeon, going from practicing stitching on dead animals, to becoming a drug addict, to performing illegal abortions, to try to piece his own dismembered son back together. The description for his character seems to be made up of about four different ones, which definitely is a slight against the character development on a show. It’s hard for me to take the idea of complex, multi-layered roles seriously when I finish an episode and only think to call a key character by the nickname “Ol’ Burn Face.”
Charles ends up bringing his son back to life as a demon beast, the reasoning being that why shouldn’t it work? He dies pretty soon after, but he’s an integral part of the mythology of the first season. That isn’t saying much though, since the plot of an American Horror Story season is only fully completed when the actors take a look at the script and say “So, I’m happy this line, but then I’m happy the next line? That doesn’t make any sense. Rewrite it.”
Jessica Lange works with a different kind of weird in the second season of the show, playing Sister Jude, the head nun of an asylum. It’s a consistent trope in today’s entertainment that every nun needs to have an evil streak, or at least be engaging in porn-style sexual fantasies when they’re not waiting for more porn-style sexual situations to arise. AHS does not disappoint in turning Lange once again into the most interesting part of the show. It’s her mix of grandmotherly tone and bat-shittedness that make her such a joy to watch here, and I hope that her character is season 3 will be just as delightful. Spoiler: She totally will be.
At this point in my life, I’d like Ian McShane to play everything. Ever since I saw him getting commission for every use of the word “cocksucker” on Deadwood, I’ve prayed that he’d get a role of that caliber again. Up to this point, my prayers have been unanswered, but that’s okay, because Ian McShane playing a homicidal maniac with a penchant for dressing as Santa Claus will certainly tide me over until he plays Benjamin Franklin or something.
McShane is obviously not looking to garner any Emmy nominations in this portrayal. His dialogue is straight out of the rough draft of a sixth-grader’s campfire story and he never loses that childlike sense of being excited for things that are objectively terrible. His line “There is no God, but there is a Santa Claus” is almost representative of the show itself, as no deity that would allow such a mutation of plot, characters and emotions to exist in this world, but insane, fictional things almost certainly would.
His mystery was unnecessary and the name “Bloody Face” is a producer’s dyslexic attempt at trying to figure out what a character’s name is and what they look like, but he attacks Adam Levine, so any flaws in his character can be forgiven. He does what many can only dream of.