I would have written this article the week this show premiered, but the more I write reviews about the pilot episodes for shows, the more I realize that that is a pretty flawed review, case in point, my initial take on "Marvel's Agents of SHIELD," but there are also times when I'm right, case in point, "The Bridge." This isn't about me being right and wrong however, this is about me finally getting a show that I thought I would like, and low and behold, despite a few flaws here and there, I actually enjoy, albeit, I can only enjoy it for one season. "America Horror Story: Freak Show" combines the mythic qualities of the traveling side show, an interesting cast of characters, and of course, one of the creepiest depictions of a clown since Pennywise. I'm finally on the "American Horror Story" bandwagon.
"Freak Show" is essentially the story of murder and mayhem in a small Florida town in the 1950s. The added twist is that Elsa Mars' Freak Show is in town, making them the prime suspects. Meanwhile, conjoined twins Bette and Dot Tattler are under investigation for the murder of their mother, but are spirited away by Elsa to join her troupe of freaks. What we find out that no one else knows yet, is that the actual culprit of the murders, or at least most of the murders, is Twisty, a wandering clown who loves magic tricks, juggling, stabbing people with scissors, and abducting children.
The main complaint that a lot of people have about "AHS" is the extreme violence, and radical psycho-sexual aspects of the show. I mean, people, you kind of know what you are getting into when watching a show about depraved and disturbed people; you are going to see some crazy sh*t, it's just the way it is. Growing up watching horror my whole life, there is very little that can disturb me, but I guess since the (mainstream) horror genre has, for all intensive purposes, been de-balled, it's all the more shocking to see shocking things on TV. But I mean this is FX, their motto is literally "No Limits." Where is the surprise here people?
If you are a seasoned "AHS" vet, there are plenty of actors that you'll recognize from previous seasons, including Sarah Paulson, who I think steals the show as the conjoined Tattler twins, Jessica Lange, who is going all out in her final season of "AHS" as Elsa Mars, and Evan Peters as Jimmy Darling, the Lobster Boy, who has probably already given a few ladies a new idea to try in the bedroom. One of the bigger additions to the cast, no pun intended, is Michael Chiklis, who plays circus strongman, Dell Toledo. Being a huge fan of "The Shield" it's great to see Chiklis back on a network that gave him his most well known character, Vic Mackey. What gives the show even more cred is the use of actual "freaks" in the cast.
In an ultra-PC world that is so sensitive about the perceived needs and wants of those less fortunate, it's an interesting idea to use actual sideshow performers as many people I'm sure see this as a form of exploitation. When Todd Browning's "Freaks" was released in 1932, the uproar was unprecedented. Normally people would have to go to an actual circus freak show to see this assortment of oddities, but Browning put it right in everyone's face on the silver screen. Over 80 years later, we are seeing the same thing on Hulu, VOD, and live on Wednesday night right now FX. The other humorous thing is that you would think that people would be up-in-arms about the exploitation of real "freaks" on a show, but the real backlash is from actual clowns about the portrayal of Twisty the Clown. Zeitgeist of the times is most certainly at its funniest when people are worked up more about clowns than what people used to find reprehensible nearly a century ago.
While I generally enjoy "Freak Show" so far, there are a few things that I find simply off-putting, namely the misguided and just plain weird musical numbers. Not knowing much going into this season, the first musical number to me sounded natural and fit in with the era the show was working within. However, the next musical number, which was a re-working of the Fiona Apple "classic," "Criminal" complete with a mosh put and a midget crowd surfing.....yeah. I assume this will be a theme throughout this series, and it really takes me out of the moment. Combining the "Glee" elements with this show just seems like pandering to a few fans.
Where this season will go, and how far it will go, intrigues me to no end. The characters that are being created are rich and seem to have a lot of history to tell and the simple contrast of peaceful suburban life in the 1950s being disrupted by a serial-killing clown and a troupe of carnies creates a mood of dread and excitement.
Fun Fact: In 1991, Jim Rose Circus, a modern day Freak Show, plays the Lollapalooza Festival, starting a new wave of performers and resurgence of interest in the genre.