More and more AHS: Hotel casting announcements are flooding in every day. But will the season suffer under the weight of the star power?
Are you suffering from Ryan Murphy fatigue? Ever wonder how he can juggle multiple projects and still have his league of actors praising the character work they get to accomplish? Ryan Murphy, and his frequent writing and development partner Brad Falchuck, are about as talented as they come in the character development department. From Rachel Berry, to Dr. Christian Troy, to Lana Winters, there is a character for everyone in their creative endeavors.
What happens to those characters over time, however, is less than appealing to a devoted audience. Each series suffers from fatigue the longer it carries on. The idea for AHS was the perfect fix for their track record — an anthology series with a story told over 13 episodes that provides characters enough time to reach a dramatic climax before leaving audiences at just the right time. That was all well and good, for at least one season.
Murder House, the first installment of AHS, was certainly not lacking star power, featuring Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, Connie Britton, and Dylan McDermott. Even as the the first cast expanded, the volume of people did not overshadow the performances. Murder House enticed other actors to jump onboard. Projects lasting 13 episodes provide the perfect opportunity to check in, immerse yourself in a role, and get out before seven years go by and you’re still singing in the halls of your high school. (Sorry.)
The cost of this, at least on Murphy’s end, is that as the seasons move forward, focus is lost. The next season slowly begins to trump wrapping up the current. The stories becomes less and less invested in the characters and a speedy wrap up to the season comes in the form of a lackluster finale.
Unfortunately, the question in AHS has shifted from “What can I throw in this character’s way that will create a compelling narrative,” to “What else fits under a circus tent that we haven’t tried?” The casting announcements are even more frightening than the season itself. The more stars that join the bandwagon, the less time each character is given to develop into someone memorable.
As it stands right now, if every actor is given five minutes of screen time, two full episodes of AHS: Hotel will be accounted for. Seventeen actors, thus far, are slated to appear in the series’ fifth installment later this year. Inevitably some characters will get more on camera action than others. But as we’ve seen, throwing in those extras tend to come at a cost to the larger story.
From what we know, Lady Gaga will be at the center of the story. Her character, an unnamed fashionista, will be involved in a love triangle with newcomer Matt Bomer and returning break out AHS favorite, Finn Wittrock. She will also have something to fight about with fashion editor Naomi Campbell. If three of them die four episodes in, how much would we have learned about them? Enough to care? Last season’s villain, Twisty the Clown, disappeared after episode 4, but he took his fair share of screen time and earned 25 minutes of backstory before his departure. That does not seem possible for every character involved with AHS: Hotel.
If you want Murphy and Falchuck’s best work, check out the first two to three episodes of their many projects. Focusing on the show in question — though Glee‘s third, fourth, fifth, and sixth seasons also make a compelling case — AHS tends to begin with a theme that gets lost in a shuffle of various entries and exits of characters. Late additions to casting feel forced. What did Neal Patrick Harris’ character at the end of Freak Show add to the tale? Not enough to warrant two episodes worth of plot. Wouldn’t you rather have seen more Elsa, Jimmy, even Amazon Eve? Why kill off Twisty in episode four? The potential for great stories, and those that the show eventually circled back around to telling, were all right there when the troupe assembled in episode 1.
Even less thrilling than a new character appearing every episode, is searching for clues to carry us into next season. The idea that the world of AHS exists in a singular bubble is fine. But around episode 11, when it feels like a crawl to the finish line, “hints” about next season are about all that is keeping viewers from changing the channel. Looking at a coffee cup with a hat becomes the think piece of the week, rather than Elsa Mars’ spiraling out of control. Viewers simply forgot about Elsa as her story took a back seat to Harris’ crazed psyche until the season moved into the penultimate episode.
This is not to say that AHS: Freak Show, Coven, or Asylum failed in anyway. Viewership was at an all-time high, Dandy Mott still terrified and entranced audiences, and the ensemble is an impressive collection of names.
As we approach season 5, Murphy teases that he darker side of AHS is coming out to play. The grizzly story that Murphy mentions he has been sitting on for quite some time may be a the jumpstart this series needs to keep, at least reviewers, from picking up on the less than thrilling narratives that fail to carry the season to completion. Big names are fun, let them do their crazy thing, but give the audience a chance to appreciate their work.
We certainly do not want to see this version of AHS. Or do we?
AHS: Hotel opens its doors this October on FX.