When it comes to television shows, every series that follows the first one are a lot like film sequels in that the creators try to give the audience more of what they loved the first time around whilst attempting to up the ante so that audiences don’t feel as though they have just watched the same thing twice. The success rate of this is about fifty percent because for every Friends season nine, there is a Community season four. And now comes American Horror Story season 2 (aka. American Horror Story: Asylum) which I am happy to report is a series that can appeal to horror, thriller and drama fans alike.
With this series, producers/writers/creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk (the brains behind Glee) have taken a rather massive gamble. Instead of delving more into the modern day haunted house story which was at the core of the first series, Murphy and Falchuk have changed the setting to an insane asylum in the 1960s and with this also comes a completely new set of characters. Now many viewers (myself included) would believe that a change this drastic will mean that the quality of the show will decline however the creators of ASHA have more than a few tricks up their sleeves to ensure that this is far from the case.
As mentioned previously, the story this time around focuses on the Briarcliffe insane asylum which is owned by the church. The people running the place are Sister Jude (Jessica Lange), her naive protégé Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe) and the institution’s founder Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes). Working with them are the doctors who treat the patients including psychiatrist Dr. Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto) and sadistic scientist Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell). The main patients at the asylum are journalist Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson), accused serial killer Kit Walker (Evan Peters) and alleged murderer Grace Bertend (Lizzie Brochere) all of whom feel that they have been wrongly institutionalised. At Briarcliffe, both the patients and the staff fall victim to supernatural and scientific occurrences.
One extremely welcome surprise is that Murphy and Falchuk have retained the some of the original series’ cast members albeit in different roles. Although it is initially rather weird, the quality of their performances enabled me to forget who they played in the previous series and embrace them as these weird, wonderful and (on many occasions) scary characters. In fact the quality of the performances is so high that it is hard to pick ones that particularly stand out. With their given character near enough all of the actors are given an equal opportunity to carry the show on their shoulders.
Another thing that works very well is the stream of events adjacent to the main storyline which here focuses on possession whether it be demonic, psychological or materialistic. Due to it being set in the 1960s, there is a large playing field for Murphy and Falchuk to play with and attack the many taboos that were present during that time such as interracial dating , homophobia and Nazis.
The only minor quip that I have with the show is that it does get rather full of itself as if the creators thought that it did not matter what they threw at the screen because the audience would love it regardless. However this is also a strength of the show because it is rather fun not knowing what is going to happen next.
In short, American Horror Story: Asylum has everything from genuine scares to great writing and fantastic performances which is rare for modern day horror films and television shows. Also there is something in there for those of you who have a strong dislike for Maroon 5’s Adam Levine.