It’s too early to tell if FX’s “American Horror Story: Coven surpasses Season 1 (aka “Murder House”) for me, I just haven’t seen enough of it yet. After all, most of Season 1’s batsh*ttery really hit the fan around episodes 4 and 5. By that point the show has provided you with a set of expectations it can then get to work subverting. I’m definitely digging it way more than “Asylum” though, it exceeds that season on flair alone.
Still, there are a lot of gleefully great (and commendably awful) elements to “Coven” and, after watching episode 2, I’m ready to dive into what really works for me about the season… so far.
“American Horror Story: Coven” stars Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy, Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Taissa Farmiga, Kathy Bates, Gabourey Sidibe, Angela Bassett, Patti LuPone, Emma Roberts, Denis O’Hare, Alexandra Breckenridge, Christine Ebersole, Danny Huston and Lily Rabe.
Head below to start counting.
Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies isn’t exactly brimming with students. In fact, there’s only four of them at this point – Emma Roberts (“Madison Montgomery”), Gabourey Sidibe (“Queenie”), Jamie Brewer (“Nan”) and Taissa Farmiga (“Zoe”). But they all have wonderfully defined personalities that gel with and contrast against each other. I especially like how funny Sidibe is allowed to be and the fact that Jamie Brewer isn’t defined by Downs Syndrome (a cliche Season 1 leaned into, rather than away from). It’s also fun to watch Emma Roberts be so gloriously selfish.
Most shows would wait until at least the halfway point (if not the second to last episode) of the season before allowing one of their primary characters to upend a party bus full of frat boys, killing 9 of them. Not “AHS,” they get that sh*t out of the way in the first episode. Part of the fun if this series is that it makes entertaining decisions seemingly on the fly, stuff you’d think would paint them into a corner – and then they wiggle out of it in even more entertaining ways.
Not all of the jokes on “AHS” work. In fact, a good number of them land with a thud. But what’s interesting about that is that I’m laughing anyway – not at the success of the joke but at the fact that they made the effort to tell it. And when the humor actually hits its intended target, it’s often fairly funny.
This dovetails a bit with number two, but “Coven” zooms along at an astonishing pace without sacrificing atmosphere. Look at how far we are just at the end of episode 2. Zoe has discovered she’s a witch, joined the Academy, raped a guy to death and brought another back to life. Jessica Lange has disentangled from her stem cell search, returned to the Academy, exhumed a 250 year old slave owner and brainwashed a few cops. The list goes on. You gotta keep up.
I mean this in the best way possible. The ONLY agenda “American Horror Story: Coven” has is to be entertaining. While this makes it an extremely sloppy show (who cares about why Madison knows how to pick a lock when she can flip a bus? Sidibe can burn a guy’s arm off by being her own human voodoo doll but still gets clonked over the head by Kathy Bates?), it also makes it fun as hell. There’s no real message here. Sure, there are interesting (occasionally empowering) offerings made along the way, but you know the producers would toss all of that out of the window for a few more “OMG” moments. In a way, this is a bad thing – something I certainly wouldn’t want to see extended to other shows (lest we become a GIF culture in spirit) – but it works fine for me within this context. Toss all the crazy and mean of the world into “Coven” and let it be our vessel.