American Horror Story: Hotel: Checking In

Posted on October 08, 2015

 

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Hell, no. We’re not back. We made a choice to not continue with the reviews of this show halfway through last season, having hit the wall after 3 1/2 seasons of documenting every inconsistency, poorly sourced character motivation and plot hole. We didn’t leave angrily, but we left declaratively. Firmly. With our morals and our wits still more or less intact. Would we ever go back? No. HELL, no. We’ve been down this road with Murphy & Co. before and when the writing is on the wall – and it says, “WE’VE RUN OUT OF IDEAS” in bright pink neon –  these are two long-time Ryan Murphy show recappers who know it’s time to beat a hasty retreat. No. Not ever again. Harrumph.

So…

What’d you guys think of last night’s American Horror Story: Hotel premiere? OMG, amirite?

Look, there was no way we were going to miss Steffi Germanotta’s dramatic debut. Gaga was reason alone to tune in to this first episode. The other big reason for watching was because it was the first episode. Ryan Murphy’s tendency to let his shows collapse under a heap of bad writing and poor creative decisions is well-documented and probably over-analyzed, so we won’t get into it here. But in every diatribe ever written about Murphy’s shows and how they devolve into meaninglessness over time (and we’ve written a few ourselves), there’s always the same point made, over and over again: His shows all start fabulously. As much as we don’t want to get sucked into another disappointing season, it was hard not to see this first episode as one of THE (pronounced “thee”) premiere events of the television season.

So, on that level, the level that holds the idea that Murphy shows start well but you probably shouldn’t expect any more than that, how did this first episode of AHS: Hotel go?

Fabulously, of course. It went fabulously.

It almost feels like Murphy’s other horror joint, FOX’s “Scream Queens,” has allowed him to bifurcate his creative obsessions, leaving his dollhouse of diva bitch characters a place to call a home of their own; a place full of camp and wit and mean-girlisms that clearly tingles all of Murphy’s bits given how much he’s returned to those very themes and tropes again and again in his work. So where does that leave AHS if he packed up all his divas and mean girls and shipped them off to another show? Where is AHS now that its Head Diva in Charge, Jessica Lange, has left the show she helped define? What is AHS now?

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Why, it’s a high-fashion drag ball, of course. It’s a runway with stomping supermodel walks and bloodstains. It’s insane art direction and more dream-like imagery than you ever thought you could handle in one sitting. It’s the shock of a demon with a drill-bit penis raping a man strung out on heroin. It’s Matt Bomer and Lady Gaga wearing thongs and having a 4-way that ends in a lagoon of blood on silk sheets. It’s Sarah Paulson giving her very best impression of/homage to Jessica Lange’s stock “strung-out bitch” character. It’s Kathy Bates pushing said strung-out bitch out a window. It’s Art Deco and disco music. It’s The Shining and Suspiria. It’s sex and blood and music and death. It’s an art film with commercials; a music video with cable drama trappings.

And yes, it’s all going to collapse into meaningless babble before it’s all over.

We say that not out of a sense of bitterness or anything. This is just the way of things with this kind of show, and Murphy & Co. have long made it clear that they’re not remotely interested in changing things. The fact that it’s a show that prizes imagery and shock over plot or characterization is a gleeful feature, not a bug. Besides, even if we didn’t know anything about the creators’ tendencies, we could tell just from this episode that the likelihood of sustaining the narrative over the course of the season was going to be very slim. For one, there is no narrative. Not really. There were a string of vignettes and scenarios that, when pieced together, give you some idea of what the story’s ostensibly going to be “about,” but there’s nothing to be found of traditional narrative structure and no reason to go looking for it.

Besides, you know 90% of this cast is going to be dead before it’s all over. Hell, most of them will probably be dead by the halfway point.

Our point?

It’s clearly a mess, but right now, it is SUCH a pretty, pretty mess. We have no intention of reviewing the rest of the season except to maybe check in near the end, but as premieres go, we’d rate this the best in the show’s history and possibly even the best thing Murphy’s ever done. No, it doesn’t hold up to conventional criticism, but it’s not trying to. That doesn’t make it good or smart, but it does make it easier to handle when it starts getting silly or shallow. The bottom line is, nothing on TV is as stylish, shocking, sexy and queer as this show right now. Good TV? Not in the conventional sense, but boy, was that an entertaining as hell ninety minutes.

[Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels/FX]

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