Nothing could keep me away from the premiere tonight of FX's newest season -- the fourth -- of their excellently creepy series American Horror Story: Freak Show. As the show has proven in its past runs, not only does American Horror Story bring on the scary in huge doses, it's also prided itself on presenting impressive and charismatic actors doing some of their best work. Filmed with impeccable, unpredictable and lushly beautiful production values, this latest skein seems perfectly suited to creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk's unique vision, as personified in the opening credits below.
Taking on the milieu of the carnival sideshow world is perhaps a natural for American Horror Story but by no means a guarantee of anything. HBO tried valiantly a decade ago to mine the colorful and mysterious depths of Depression-era carny life in Carnivàle, a lovely effort from producer Daniel Knauf (read a great two-part interview with him from The AV Club here) that lasted two seasons and garnered the undying love of loyal fans who still pine for a climax to the sideshow interruptus perpetrated by the network. HBO's series was set in the 1930s; AHS: FS takes places in the early 1950s when sideshows were beginning to lose audience -- thanks a lot to TV for that -- and which should provide a gorgeous canvas for the producers to work with. At least Murphy and Falchuk know they are out of American Horror Story: Freak Show in a dozen or so episodes and can concentrate on making them the scariest, smartest, weirdest and undoubtedly mesmerizing hours on television, period. We have no doubt they will succeed.
On a personal note, all of my life I've had a particular interest in all things sideshow, human oddities, carnival, circus and so on; American Horror Story: Freak Show is indeed the best of all worlds for somebody like me, From what we've seen so far from advance materials, it looks like the show is going to hit all the right notes from sheer fascination (some perhaps morbid but completely genuine) to abject admiration in its treatment of the very special people (author Frederick Drimmer's term from his book of the same name) characters in AHS:FS, most of whom are played by actors with the actual conditions.
Actress Kathy Bates puts on a goatee to play a bearded woman, and Sarah Paulson plus wonderful CGI work allows her to portray dicephalic parapagus twins (two heads, one body, like well-known American twins Abby and Brittany Hensel who had their own show on TLC two years ago). Actor Evan Peters thanks to prosthetic hand pieces plays a part clearly based on longtime real-life carnival attraction Grady Stiles and his family, Stiles being known on the circuit as "The Lobster Boy" for his ectrodactyly a.k.a. Lobster Claw syndrome. (Unfortunately Stiles was also a nasty piece of work and a convicted murderer to boot.)
Bates, Paulson and Peters are just part of the terrific cast of American Horror Story: Freak Show, a repertory company of thespians some of whom have variously appeared in all or some of the previous seasons of AHS and others who are new to the series. The splendid Jessica Lange returns as a former famous songstress from Germany who has gathered a collection of different ones around her, Angela Bassett is a triply-endowed seductress, Frances Conroy is a well-heeled matron, Dennis O'Hare and Emma Roberts are grifters, and Gabourey Sidibe is back in a storyline that has her on the trail of her missing mother, played by AHS newcomer Patti LaBelle. Others new to the series but coming onboard for this newest outing are the wonderful actor Michael Chiklis as a strongman, the always tremendous John Carroll Lynch as a disturbing clown named Twisty -- is there any other kind, you might ask -- and other guest stars including already announced Matt Bomer with more surely to come. There simply is no better cast anywhere on TV.
Equally impressive and so intensely interesting because of their unique gifts are co-stars British actor/writer/musician Mat Fraser who plays Paul the tattooed seal; Rose Siggins who played Legless Suzi and was featured in a wonderful documentary about her life; actress/model and transgender crusader Erika Ervin who plays a female giantess, and Jyoti Amge, the official World's Smallest Living Woman. I'm just going to say it -- Jyoti is the cutest thing ever, not just because she is a super-diminutive 24" tall but because she is a bubbly, giggling ball of irrepressible life.
Joyti turned eighteen two years ago --
In addition to visiting the American Horror Story: Freak Show website for great extra features and much behind-the-scenes information, be especially sure to watch the featurettes on Fraser, Siggins and Irvin. Truly amazing.
American Horror Story: Freak Show premieres tonight at 10pm on FX. The official show website is located here.
We'll be following up with more on American Horror Story: Freak Show as the series unfolds!