So this show felt like it lost its relevance a long time ago, and Ryan Murphy is certainly doing bigger and better things with American Crime Story (and...a Nurse Ratched prequel?), but the current season that premiered on Tuesday is certainly taking a stab at being topical. It tackles and conflates the presidential election last year with the spree of clown sightings and the rise of fascism, and...I'm kind of intrigued?
My relationship with this show has oscillated over the years. The first season has some genuine highs, but showed signs of the kitchen sink approach that would unravel later seasons. I powered through season two and was pleased with moments of innovation (the "Name Game" musical episode), but for some reason the promise of season three's Coven devolved into a Stevie Nicks's music video. I never finished Freak Show and only caught a few episodes of Hotel.
But My Roanoke Nightmare brought me back in with its takedown of reality television and found footage. The first half being about the show within a show and second half giving the actors a chance to switch things up was pretty nifty, even if the whole thing petered out a bit by the end. And the stunt casting of Lady Gaga for Hotel, to compensate for Jessica Lange's departure, didn't amount to much with her limited presence in MRN. But at least they reined in a lot of the shock value and music video editing.
Strangely enough, or not so strangely, a lot of the series regulars appear to be gone this season. Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, Lily Rabe, Wes Bentley, Gaga, they all seem to be gone, unless they're being kept under wraps for surprises later. So it's just series stalwarts Evan Peters and Sarah Paulson, here from the beginning, in a kind of tête-à-tête against one another.
On the one side Peters is a pro-Trump, USA USA kind of guy that appears to be using clowns to wage a fear campaign that will make the masses more malleable to control by the government. On the other is Paulson playing an agoraphobic, ultra-liberal (she voted for Jill Stein) lesbian in a marriage with Alison Pill that is, you guessed it, afraid of clowns. Twisty the Clown from the Freak Show season also makes an appearance, although just in a comic book (so far, it's ambiguous if the events of season four "happened" in the past of this season, since season connections are tenuous at best).
And the reason I said topical above is how charged the imagery and language is on the show. It doesn't shy away from real-life footage of Trump and Clinton, and loads up the dialogue with exigent buzzwords like "triggered," "women's studies" and the "dark web." Characters wonder where they'll get abortions now or if their same-sex marriage will be dissolved. Paulson at one point complains about how often Trump tweets, and a cashier wears a MAGA hat. It all feels like your social media feed dramatized into a narrative.
So far I can't tell what Murphy is trying to accomplish. He's obviously poking fun at liberals that either didn't vote at all (one character yells at another for being too busy with Etsy to go vote) or threw their vote away with a protest vote. But he doesn't shy away from showing Peters' deplorable revolutionary to be depraved and pathetic, and yet alluring. It's an angry, angry show, and when Pill's character advises that Paulson just keep her head down and get on with real life, it oddly feels like the thesis of the story because it's coming from the one sympathetic character. Yet when Paulson goes to her therapist and he says something similar about cutting the cord, he comes across as being kind of a douchebag (he mentions doing CrossFit to distract himself).
I don't know what you're trying to say, Murphy! And if it comes down to there being blame "on both sides" that will feel like a real betrayal from a progressive creator that has always pushed the envelope with his work, for better or worse.
Anyways, anyone watching this?