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Review: American Horror Story NYC

American Horror Story has officially out-queered itself… for better and for worse, writes Sean Cook

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2.5/5 Stars 

ALERT: This review contains spoilers.

For the eleven years of it’s run, American Horror Story has always been a flamboyant, schlocky, gaudy treat, light on horror and heavy on campness, complete with an astonishing array of A-listers, divas, and the best line-up of out queer actors this side of… well, anywhere really.   As us queers are probably the most diehard loyal fanbase, I do think an exclusively queer AHS season has been a long time coming… okay, so we had AHS Hotel with Lady Gaga, which many would argue was a loyalty card pay-out of sorts, but we’ve never had a season that was solely about us, our story.  Until now. 

The good news is that AHS NYC is queer as it gets. And as this is Ryan Murphy – a modern day Warhol who turns everything from teenage alienation (Glee) to gay serial-killers (Dahmer) into tele pop-art – you know that aesthetically youre in very safe hands, the set-design etc is a treat.  The bad news is, it feels like an eight episode season stretched over ten episodes, it borrows heavily from Murphy’s own Dahmer, Tony Kushner’s Angels in America and Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart (but done in in a kind of back-street-Louis-Vuitton-handbag-ripoff  kind of way), and… I’m just not sure that the seriousness of the subject matter should actually be given the flamboyant, schlocky, gaudy AHS treatment.

Its set in the early 80s, so in the timeline of queer history, that means one thing, our holocaust, AIDS. But before we get to that, a mysterious serial-killer is killing gay men and suspicion surrounds a leather-clad figure known only as Big Daddy. A young in-the-closet NYPD detective, Patrick (Russell Tovey) is on the trail, as is his journalist lover, Gino, (Joe Mantello).  As it’s gays getting killed, Patrick is struggling to get his heterosexual NYPD colleagues to treat the matter with any seriousness.  Meanwhile, Joe is struggling to get his hedonistic gay readership to stop thinking with their dicks for a moment and to start taking their safety seriously. Elsewhere, reimagined versions of real-life figures like Robert Mapplethorpe, Victor Hugo, David Wojnarowicz and Larry Kramer fill the canvas of the 80’s backdrop. Oh, and there are three lesbian characters, based on the likes of Ann Northrop, Maxine Wolfe and Marion Banzhaf, but unfortunately, the show does nothing to build upon the legacies of these outrageously under-celebrated and under-remembered women of the Act-Up movement, they’re given very little screen time, and the screen time they are given does little to push the narrative forward. Then there’s Patti LuPone, who spends the entire time singing gay anthems in a sauna and telling anyone who will listen that something bad is coming. Theres a side storyline about a scientist, Hannah (Billie Lourd), who is studying a new disease that is affecting the deer population on Fire Island and may be causing gay men to experience a kind of skin irritation.  And there is BDSM, torture scenes, naked torsos and lots of crotches… and that’s about it for the first seven episodes.  

Then, when the serial-killer is shot dead at the end of episode 7, the diseased-deer-on-Fire-Island side storyline comes to the fore and for two episodes, we’re thrown full-throttle into back-street-Louis-Vuitton-handbag-rip-offs of Angels in America and The Normal Heart. We discover that Big Daddy was not the serial-killer we imagined him to be but rather a leather-clad, muscle-bound grim-reaper, visiting people who are about to die of AIDS, (but also people who aren’t about to die of AIDS, and people who haven’t even contracted HIV???).  We are then taken on an oddly moralising Ebenezer Scrooge kind of journey with a few of the key characters for an episode. And finally we are given a kind of homage to those who have died from AIDS (which, thankfully, is tastefully done, but tonally a completely different show).  If it all sounds like a bit of a mess, it is.  Like I said, the good news is that its as queer as fuck. The bad news… well, I can’t help but wonder whether AIDS should ever be treated as tele pop-art?  And also, as a diehard loyal fanbase, whether we actually deserved a much more rewarding loyalty card pay-out?

Now screening on Binge and Apple TV