When ‘American Horror Story’ launched in 2011, it brought with it a fearlessness and a freshness that made it instantly arresting, even when it would lapse into the absolute ridiculous. However, after a brilliant first season and a superb second season, the quality of the show took a painfully sharp decline, and even though the anthology format meant the show rebooted itself every year, the quality has continued to slip further and further. There was some hope with the fifth season ‘Hotel’, that the show might be readjusting itself, but the results were somehow messier, more indulgent and even duller than they’d ever been before.
It’s hard to say exactly what the narrative of ‘Hotel’ is, but I’m not even sure creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk could tell you as they clearly seem to be making it up as they go along. It’s centred around the fictional art deco Hotel Cortez in Los Angeles, residence to ghosts, sadists, monsters and vampires. Every time you think the season has settled into a narrative or chosen a protagonist, it takes another sharp turn in the wrong direction, delivers another infuriating voiceover monologue or takes you to the umpteenth flashback to try and hide the fact the people at the wheel have no idea what they’re doing. Sure, the hotel is a beautiful piece of design. Sure, the costume design is pretty sumptuous. But good design and snappy editing does not make a great piece of television, and the shortfallings of ‘Hotel’ are so immense that the only good thing you can say about it is that at least it isn’t as thunderously boring as the fourth season, ‘Freak Show’.
'AMERICAN HORROR STORY: HOTEL' EXTENDED TEASER
What AHS has been reduced to is the worst excesses of its creative team. When it started, it was a thrilling and detailed step through the history and legacy of American horror, taking familiar tropes, images, sounds and character types and mixing them together into a glorious crazy soup. The joy was in the pastiche, in creating palpable drama while winking knowingly to the audience. Personally, I found those first two seasons endlessly thrilling for all the right reasons. ‘Hotel’ shows just how lazy Murphy and Falchuk have become (no surprise really, when you consider how quickly ‘Glee’ went off the rails). Things happen in ‘Hotel’ for no good reason, the violence is excessive and dull, and there are even moments where the season becomes uncomfortably offensive, like the Devil’s Night sequence that has famous serial killers from LA’s history getting together for a night of debauchery with cartoon-like relish, ignoring the fact these were real people who did terrible, terrible things. There’s no reason why anything happens in AHS anymore save for the whim of its creators, and any sense of the characters’ (or the audience’s) journey through the season just drops away. Some of the performances try and hold it together, especially Kathy Bates, Denis O’Hare and (surprisingly) Lady Gaga, but the stupidly talented cast they’ve now assembled for this series is being criminally wasted, especially actors of the calibre of Sarah Paulson and Angela Bassett.
This series ended up being a real chore to get through.
I had really hoped that ‘American Horror Story: Hotel’ would turn this series around, but it ended up being a real chore to get through. There’s no story to follow, no characters to care about - all we’re expected to do is open our mouths and take spoonfuls of this offal Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk insist we should be enjoying. AHS has become obnoxious, flabby, lazy, unfocused, offensive, woefully indulgent, and, worst of all, mind-numbingly boring, and if reports of the sixth season are anything to go by, things have only gotten worse. ‘Hotel’ has killed this show for me, so I won’t be checking in to see for myself, instead content rewatching those first two seasons like they’re the only ones that exist. AHS has gone from one of the most exciting shows on television to one of the worst with startling speed, and no amount of blood, gore, loud music, flashy design or celebrity faces is going to change that. I’d tell you to stake it in the heart, bury it in a crossroads, salt the earth and use copious amounts of holy water, but I don’t think it would get those references anymore. It’s far too interested in referencing itself now.
PICTURE & SOUND
Of course, ‘AHS: Hotel’ scrubs up a treat on Blu-ray, the 1080p 1.78:1 transfers of the 12 episodes showing off the terrific design. It’s sharp as a tack and the colours are rich and vibrant. The same can be said for the DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that’s put to good work every episode, if only suffering from the indulgence of the sound design.
The joy of the features included on this disc (the few that are, anyway) is watching everyone try and explain what the hell is going on in this show and look enthusiastic about it. On Disc One, ‘An Invitation to Devil’s Night’ (11:39) looks at the double Halloween episode and the logistics it took to achieve it, while on Disc Three, we get ‘The Cortez: An Era of Elegance Gone By’ (7:35), a more general making-of that puts extra focus on the real star of ‘Hotel’, the actual hotel itself.
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