TV Review - American Horror Story: Season 6

This season is subtitled "My Roanoke Nightmare." It's essentially about a couple that moves from Los Angeles to North Carolina, from the city to the country, and into what is basically a haunted house. The Conjuring (2013), anyone? Or, how about any one of a million horror film premises?

There might be other things happening, but, on its surface, it seems like a haunted house. The first season of this series, created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Bradley Buecker, is also about a haunted house. Yet, the first season gave us imagery and ideas that are rarely seen in the horror genre, certainly horror as depicted on television. It gave us a figure covered head-to-toe in patented, black leather. This figure was like a ghost but a ghost that committed rape. It was a crazy idea that Murphy, Falchuk and Buecker put to screen. Subsequent seasons gave us more crazy ideas. Love it or leave it, that's their shtick, but this season there aren't that many crazy ideas thus far. I've only seen the first two episodes, but so far the imagery and ideas have been more derivative than anything else.

To distinguish this season, Murphy and company make the episodes a mockumentary. There's no comedy though. It's not like a Christopher Guest film. It's taken seriously, played as straight as possible, and even meant to be scary. Without the mockumentary-construct, the story is only three characters. Murphy and company have typically juggled ensemble casts with ten or more characters in play as being at times in the forefront. This season scaled it back somewhat. Future episodes could open things up but right now, this season is basically three people.

Sarah Paulson, recent Emmy-winner for The People V. O.J. Simpson, stars as Shelby, a former teacher who falls in love and marries Matt, played by Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding, Jr. Matt is a pharmaceutical, sales representative who does a lot of traveling for his job. After a gang-related attack, they leave L.A. for the North Carolina woods. They buy a dilapidated house, an old farmhouse that was auctioned by the bank. They pour all their savings into it and start fixing it up. Immediately, strange things start happening, things that indicate a haunting.

Oscar-nominee Angela Bassett (What's Love Got to Do With It and Malcolm X) co-stars as Lee, a former police officer and alcoholic who lost custody of her daughter to her ex-husband. She's the sister of Matt. She comes to stay with Matt and Shelby as Shelby becomes more and more unhinged by the strange occurrences. Lee is meant to be reinforcement or companionship, while Matt is on the road for work and Shelby is in the house alone. Lee brings her daughter to the house, which ramps up the danger and the threat.

As we watch the three characters grapple with the haunting or possible hoax perpetuated by rednecks or potentially racist hicks who live near the house who resent Matt and Shelby as an interracial couple, Paulson, Gooding and Bassett are doing what would be the reenactment portions of the documentary. Yet, there are also actors doing the real-life interviews of the documentary. Lisa Rabe (American Horror Story) plays Shelby. AndrĂ© Holland (42 and Selma) plays Matt and Adina Porter (True Blood and The Newsroom) plays Lee.

While having the actors doing the interviews doesn't feel necessary initially, those actors, meaning Rabe, Holland and Porter, are giving the better performances. They're certainly giving the more genuine and heartbreaking performances. It's almost intentional because they're supposed to be the so-called "real" people, whereas Paulson, Gooding and Bassett are the so-called "actors." They're playing a meta-level that's supposed to be a little unreal, but the quality isn't like that of Unsolved Mysteries. The quality is that of an Errol Morris film. The actors doing the interviews are filmed interrotron style.

Murphy and his writers still shock with gory or brutal deaths, but it's strange because it still feels more tame than previous seasons. Last season particularly was absolutely bonkers. Last season for example, Paulson played Siamese twins, basically two heads on one body. Last season was subtitled "Freak Show." Arguably, something like that is hard to top. Practically everything following that would feel like a let down.

Knowing Murphy, things can ramp up and all Hell can break loose. Yes, compared to the average TV show, this series is certifiably insane, but compared to itself and previous seasons, this season is kind of blah.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-MA-LSV.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Wednesdays at 10PM on FX.

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