I’m a fan of excess in pop culture. American Horror Story honchos Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk are the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker of 21st Century teevee drama. ZAZ were the zanies behind Airplane, Ruthless People, and the Naked Gun movies to name but a few. The ZAZ approach to comedy is to throw a lot of shit at the wall and see how much of it sticks. Murphy and Falchuk have used the same technique with the AHS anthology series. Sometimes it works, Asylum, and sometimes it doesn’t, last season’s Coven. BUT it’s always interesting like walking the tightrope or being the man on the flying trapeze. It’s glorious when it works and a fucking mess when it doesn’t. In short, nothing exceeds like excess…
I’m hoping that AHS: Freak Show is shit that sticks but that remains to be seen. The first episode is quite promising as it shows signs of being surreal and totally unhinged from reality as opposed to bringing in historical characters such as Marie Laveau and Madame LaLaurie and not getting them right. I was relieved to learn that while the lobster boy is *based* on the real one, Grady Stiles, he’s called Jimmy Darling. (Hmm, I wonder if he’s related to the former Mets and A’s pitcher, Ron.) AHS works better when it channels history through its tabloid grinder instead of pretending to be the real deal. That’s one reason Asylum worked and Coven did not. The best thing about Coven was the totally wacked Lilly Rabe-Stevie Nicks sub-plot. It was almost as funny as something out of the Naked Gun series.
The post title is based on line spoken by Jessica Lange as Fraulein Elsa, the freak show’s proprietrix and talent scout. It was the CW back then as you can see from this print ad:
“It’s toasted” sounds like the effects of weed, legal or otherwise. Wow, man. Enough with the parenthetical asides, I’ll continue after the break to avoid spoilers, especially since Dr. A hasn’t seen Monsters Among Us yet.
The show is set in 1952 in Jupiter, Florida, which is well known as a retirement/off the road community for carnies and circus folk. It’s filmed in the New Orleans area but I shan’t be looking for local things because it’s exhausting and, hopefully, they’ll camouflage it as well as, say, the Coen Brothers did in Miller’s Crossing. In any event, I’d rather play spot the looney than spot the location. That would, of course, have been more appropriate for AHS season-2. I may need political asylum after that joke…
I should have said that it’s loosely set in 1952 because Murchuk (my new ZAZ-like nickname for the show’s auteurs) commit Freak Show to surreality when they go all Baz Luhrman in Moulin Rouge and have Fraulein Elsa warble an off-key Dietrich-esque rendition of David Bowie’s Life On Mars. I suspect it’s also a sly bow to the brilliant British cop/time travel teevee series of the same name. I halfway expected Sam Tyler and Gene Hunt to show up.
Freak Show On The Ropes: People are staying home in 1952 to watch Uncle Miltie and Red Skelton, so the freak show is in trouble. Elsa is scouting a possible stellar new attraction: hot conjoined twins, Bette and Dot (Sarah Paulson.) Chang and Eng were never as cute as these two. Who among us would not like a double dose of AHS diva Sarah Paulson? Dot is the sullen one and Bette is the flirt. I look forward to hearing their double talk in future episodes. They could also face double jeopardy down the road as they killed their mother so they could get out of the house. It seems extreme to me.
Twisty The Clown: The scary clown is a classic conceit of horror fiction and Twisty seems to be a uniquely twisted one. He runs around stabbling folks with a knife, which is also how the twins killed Mommie Dearest. No wire coat hangers. I’d be pointing at Twisty all day, y’all, especially after the gang at the freak show murders a cop who shows up looking for the runaway twins. Jimmy the Darling lobster boy starts the fun but all the freaks conjoin in…
In case you haven’t seen Twisty, he looks a bit like Face Off head judge/alpha male Glen Hetrick:
Now that you’ve seen him, it’s time to twisty the night away…
Exploitative Or Empathetic? I wanted to write a bit about *my* feelings about freaks and how I think Murchuk handle it. I identify with the freaks, they’re the classic outsiders, which is why those crazy hippies in the 1960’s adopted the word and let their fabulous furry freak flag fly:
I think Murchuk are simultaneously empathetic and exploitative of the freaks. Coven was dominated by identity politics and the Lobster Boy expresses his own hatred of the word freak. I, for one, hope they don’t get bogged down with identity politics again and I like the word. There, I said it. Additionally, people went to the sideshows for a variety of reasons, and it was the only way those folks could make a living. It’s a point that onetime sideshow performers have made many times over the years. Nowadays, people like that start tech companies. Oh, that’s geeks, not freaks.
Madness To My Method: I’ll be doing these recaps a bit differently than those for Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men. Those shows are serious and substantive in nature thereby requiring more time and a second viewing. I’m just going to let things rip in my Freak Show recaps and not worry about being comprehensive. In short, I’m bringing tabloid style recapping to First Draft, which is one reason I’m going picture mad. If I miss something, it’s no big whoop, unless, of course, Twisty is stalking me. He better leave me alone, Homey the Clown and I are old pals:
Next week, we’ll get to see my countryman Michael Chiklis as a strongman who spawned Lobster Boy with the Bearded Lady (Kathy Bates) and Angela Bassett as a hermaphrodite with three boobs. It’s just another day at the Freak Show:
I’ll give the last word to the Thin White Duke and the cast of the awesome BBC show Life On Mars: