Nobody would blame you for not remembering Heroes. The show’s stint at the top was so short and its tailspin into oblivion was so swift and violent that it’s once glorious reputation and critical acclaim has almost been obscured entirely.
“Eclipsed”, if you will…
For those of you unfamiliar, let me offer a quick recap.
Heroes followed a number of seemingly unrelated people who, in the days following a solar eclipse, find that they’ve developed superpowers. As they struggle to cope with their new abilities, their storylines begin to entwine as the looming threat of destruction, along with a mysterious and sinister figure, approaches.
The show’s total simplicity made it both accessible to a wide audience (especially one that wouldn’t necessarily consider themselves comic book/superhero fans) and further made the show easy to follow, even with its large cast of characters. That large cast in turn meant that most everyone would have someone they’d be able to relate to, and kept the episodes moving along at a decent pace with no real room for boredom. And all of that went out the window.
My roommate and I have been watching The Newsroom without fail every Sunday evening. For anyone unaware, The Newsroom is the latest creation of Aaron Sorkin, perhaps most famous for his show The West Wing and his favored medium of people having very fast conversations while walking.
The show’s premise is actually pretty interesting. Set in an alternate reality where there’s actually a single news channel actually devoted to journalism and integrity (as much as anyone can hope for, anyways), anchor Will MacAvoy (Jeff Daniels) and his intrepid crew struggle to keep the beacon of integrity and unflinching honesty lit in a mire of shady politics, fear-mongering, and cheap entertainment. Continue reading →
Today, I’d like to tip my hat to one of my favorite shows, a young series by the name of American Horror Story.
Now it’s no secret that the horror genre is universally despised, being seen by many as being lower on the totem pole than even toilet-humor comedies or the most saccharine romances out there. I could probably spend an entire post speculating on why exactly horror flicks are treated with such little respect (a lot of it is probably due to the genre’s inbred cousin, the “teen scream” flick), but that’s another topic for another time. I’m here to simply showcase the series and highlight a few of its key strengths and accomplishments that I think make it worthy of a Fame Day.
Each season of the show (the second has just concluded, and a third has been greenlit) is a separate story, made up of the horrific lives of the characters as they struggle with their pasts, their inner demons, and some ever-present terror always lurking just beyond the shadows. It essentially cashes in on the initial charm that LOST had before it jumped the polar bear.
Guilt and shame are themes that play heavily into the series as a whole (or at least, the past two “stories”), giving even the most heinous characters a degree of sympathy. Again, similar to LOST at its best, the constant shifting of the story from one perspective to the next prevents the series from ever being boring. Granted, the madcap pacing doesn’t always work (especially in the first story), but for the most part, the audience is always kept interested.
And that brings us to the first key accomplishment of the series:
As I stated above, horror is simply not popular- at least, not in any mainstream way. Tim Burton’s lighter works are really the closest most people get to anything remotely macabre, and the fact that the series has continually drawn in high ratings (to say nothing of critical acclaim) is nothing short of amazing. And we’re not talking about a series that is eerie or has a handful of jump-scares, we’re talking about truly unsettling elements here. I’m certainly not alone in hoping that that AHS‘s continued success serves to begin building bridges between mainstream entertainment and horror subculture; heaven knows both could benefit from some fresh perspective.
And even in the subculture, AHS is playing a pretty major role. It’s…
Raising the Bar
As a result of the genre’s (comparative) isolation, quality in horror is typically pretty rare. When you can’t secure funding for special effects, good equipment, or even B-level actors, chances are your product isn’t going to be all that good. Of course, when you have a built in audience who would pay money to watch Dwayne Johnson protect an orphanage from chupacabras, why would you even bother trying?
I would actually probably watch that…
I’ve seen my fair share of (decent) horror movies, and I can count on one hand the films that had even passable cinematography. AHS, as a series that actually has some decent funding and actually puts effort into creating tense atmospheres and believable effects, is raising the bar for the entire industry. When AHS is the basis for most people’s experience with the genre, there’s going to be pressure on the rest of the industry to meet and excel the expectations the mainstream audience is going to have. Furthermore, AHS‘s star-studded cast (including Zachary Quinto, Ian McShane, James Cromwell, and, I kid you not, Adam Levine) is hopefully going to make the horror genre more inviting to high-caliber actors who can actually sell the audience on the direness of the situation and maintain interest without having to drag in a bunch of fornicating teenagers.
The series is actually one of the few I’ve ever seen that actually gives teens any credit or respect…
And perhaps most importantly, it comes down to this:
While the stories are good, as are the actors (Jessica Lange being easily more frightening than the goriest bits of the series), it’s some of the basic discussions held during the stories that really hit home. Oppression of women and the dark history of psychology are topics repeatedly brought up, and dealt with both in a historically accurate and totally visceral manner. Perhaps the most disturbing thing I’ve yet seen in the series hasn’t been any of the monsters or murders- it’s been a demonstration (scaled back for TV, even) of the psychological “treatment” given to people “suffering from homosexuality,” seen at the time as a mental disease. Those five minutes alone were more frightening than anything else in the story- and it was amazing. Amazing to see some serious and deep social commentary made, and to see the brutality and insanity some people had to undergo actually presented in a way that’s going to resonate with the audience. You will be a better human being for having watched that scene.
Though in the spirit of honesty, your view of nuns will probably diminish a bit…
When’s the last time you could say that about a rom-com?
American Horror Story, keep up the good work.
A final note. I would’ve included more gifs, but (1) I didn’t want to spoil anything and (2) easily 90% of all AHS images are of Evan Peters, who is apparently just the bee’s knee’, if the series’ female fans are to be believed.
1) Bring Them Back to School 2) Have a Little Class 3) Have Mercy on Ben Chang 4) Where Are We Going? 5) We Should See Other People
If you want to elaborate on them ever so slightly-
GORDON: Alright. While Evan and I do differ slightly on what we’d like to see the show bring back, these ARE the fundamentals here.
The whole reason we first started watching was because we, like the target demographic, were either in college, about to go to college, or just graduated from college and were looking back with fond memories- forgetting the ulcers that Statistics classes gave you.
EVAN: I loathed Stats.
GORDON: Point is- it’s all about the college- put the characters back in classes, and back on campus.
Chang, of course, was one of the most mesmerizing characters in there; mysterious, inscrutable. The fact that he’s been reduced to a punching-bag who makes cameos every once in a while is just wrong. It’s like using the Venus de Milo as a door-stopper.
And of course, if we could actually see the characters progress, that’d be nice.
Troy, if I recall correctly, was dealing with the loss of his jock status.
EVAN: Way back in Season 1, though. They haven’t touched on his and Annie’s high school statuses in ages.
GORDON: Not at all.
And last but not least, it’d be cool to see some other characters. There’re only so many Starburns jokes out there. Remember that one teacher that Jeff was into?
That gal actually added to the show- she wasn’t some prop to set up jokes.
EVAN: As we talked about, way back, the show requires direction. What happened in Season 3, exactly?
EVAN: All the characters started moving out of their dorms and such, and there was this big outward push. Something which, I think it’s fair to say, we didn’t expect to see until Season 4. They started to remove themselves from Greendale, which again we mentioned weakened the show.
GORDON: Exactly what year are these people, anyways? They finished freshman year, but after that I don’t think I ever saw ’em in class again.
EVAN: Heh. Seriously, though, this final thirteen-episode season is their final year. They’re going to be graduating, finally on that thirteenth episode.
GORDON: Really? Dang. It’s a shame so much was just… wasted.
EVAN: How about this: Let’s talk about what they did right in Season 3, and what we hope to see in Season 4. Just because, well, there were some solid episodes in there somewhere.
GORDON: Such as?
EVAN: “Remedial Chaos Theory.” Third episode of the season.
GORDON: I’m gonna have to disagree with you on that one. Solid writing- but not good writing for the show.
EVAN: “Studies in Modern Movement,” seventh, and “Regional Holiday Music,” the episode right before their hiatus.
GORDON: I hated the musical one- but that’s no surprise. And what was “Modern Movement,” again?
EVAN: The one where Annie moves in with Abed and Troy. It ends with a weird medley of Seal’s “Kiss From A Rose” as it pans between every character.
GORDON: I think you’re forgetting what a scatter-brained episode that was. Great individual jokes- but really poorly stitched together.
EVAN: I’m going to have to disagree with you. I’ve rewatched it a few times, and it holds up. It’s pretty good throughout.
GORDON: Well, we’ll have to settle on that.
But even if those all were as good as you recall- that is one freaking shoddy record. Plus, they barely even touched on Greendale Community College. That’s like… “Hey, that’s a great story about food- but this is a murder mystery show.” It just doesn’t fit.
EVAN: And for those who might argue that-
GORDON: Let’s not do this, dude. The Community fans, they’re rabid, “ALL GLORY TO THE HYPNOTOAD” kind of people.
EVAN: Looking forward to that gif.
GORDON: I don’t think I’ve seen this much undeserved adoration since Taylor Swift started her campaign to destroy feminism.
EVAN: Whoa, I love “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”
GORDON: Every time you play that song, a feminist gets cancer.
EVAN: It’ll be your turn eventually.
Anyway. In terms of Community, there’s no better place to gauge the show’s popularity than my favourite [heh- Canadians spell weird, -G] place for TV reviews, the AV Club. The lowest grade the show got last season was a B.
GORDON: Which shows what lousy reviewers they have for that show (that’s right, come get me). Look- the show’s bad. It’s been bad for a while now, and the occasional bit of unrelated humor isn’t enough to redeem it. Back when the show supposedly got axed, I was happy. For once- just once- I saw it happen to a series that (I thought) deserved it.
Ok, we’ll do this- what would you want to see in the upcoming season?
EVAN: I would like to see . . . huh. That’s a good question.
I’d like to see a kickin’ [that’s what the cool kids are saying thse days] prof for History 101, their final class together. I want to see closure as they graduate and are forced to move on with their lives. I mean, man, we graduated like what, four months ago? People have to move on. Even if it does suck.
GORDON: With the debacle of the past couple seasons, simple truth of the matter is that what made the characters compelling in the first place can’t be resurrected- if the show’s gonna go out with a bang, new motives need to be brought in.
Specifically- I want Chang to get his job back. And I want Tina Fey as the history prof.
EVAN: Ooh. Impossible, but good.
GORDON: Well- perfect world, here.
EVAN: I think Troy actually working towards a career is good. I mean, his whole air con repairman thing from last season; he knows where he could be headed. Jeff wants to become a lawyer again. What about everyone else?
GORDON: Shirley and her financial independence.
EVAN: There’s a lot of potential here as far as what they want, where they want to go.
GORDON: I was actually surprised that her story was the only one that really lasted.
Abed? Poor guy doesn’t have much left in him.
EVAN: Abed could- I don’t know. Write for TV?
GORDON: Become a film prof?
EVAN: It’s hard to tell, considering the manchildren him and Troy have been reduced to.
GORDON: And as we like ending on high notes that’ll be it for us here at the CWR.
EVAN: We talked a little about what we liked about Community in the past, and what we hope to see in the future, and in spite of anything we said we’ll be watching “History 101” alongside all of you in two more days.
GORDON: As usual, be sure to vote for next week’s discussion topic below.
EVAN: And thanks for reading.
EDIT: We were way off with this, and apparently the first episode lands Friday, October 19th. Our bad.