I've watched the second season of "American Horror Story," subtitled "Asylum," with considerable interest. Not because I've enjoyed it, but because I keep looking for clues regarding what others appear to be seeing in (or reading into) it.
Yes, there's a terrific cast, a cool look, a lot of homages to old movies. You even got to see a revisionist take on "The Children's Hour," where the lesbian character in the 1960s, here played by Sarah Paulson, isn't such a victim.
Strip away the window dressing and the accolades, though — including a mystifying spot on the American Film Institute's 10 top TV shows of the year — and the series is empty and nihilistic, characterized mostly by its incoherence. And the finale premiering Jan. 23 is no exception, despite its efforts (no spoilers here) to call back to earlier episodes and tie up some (emphasis on "some") of the loose ends.
More than anything, "AHS" reminds me of the later seasons of series creator Ryan Murphy's "Nip/Tuck," a
series that started with enormous promise and pleasures and eventually descended into unpleasantness and shock value, sex and violence for its own sake. Only in this case, Murphy (and co-creator Brad Falchuk) simply skipped the satisfying part.
Frankly, I'm not surprised something like the Golden Globes — which is always drawn to movie stars and shiny objects, especially on TV — recognized the series, or that talent like Jessica Lange savored being served up such over-the-top material. What I can't fathom is why so many bought into the lazy use of historical figures — not to mention the Devil, Nazis, space aliens and the Catholic Church — as an excuse to indulge in titillation primarily for its own sake.
Amid the mish-mash, "AHS" often felt unnecessarily provocative, a bit like putting a battery on its shoulder and daring the Parents Television Council to just try and knock it off.
Not to support the PTC — this is made and scheduled for adults — and the show was successful enough by FX's standards. That said, the producers didn't lie when they titled its season finale "Madness Ends." And while I don't expect sunbeams and roses from any future editions, would a bit more narrative coherence be too much to ask?