Reviews: American Horror Story Roanoke

Oh, sweet, bloody effort

Like the previous reviewer, I'd basically given up on American Horror Story. I did not keep up with Roanoke when it was airing, nor am I keeping up with Cult. It's a series that, despite all of its glowing qualities, regularly gets my hopes up only to disappoint me. When the sixth season came to Netflix, I clicked on the first episode more out of boredom than genuine interest; just something mildly October-esque to watch as I ate dinner.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was not agitated by the first episode or the season's documentary/found footage/reality television schtick. I was intrigued, actually. Still, I continued on with caution. This show always does a pretty damn good job of wrapping you up in the new story, characters and setting with its first few episodes, only to pathetically fumble the ball for the rest of the season until the "story" just sort of ends wherever.

It's still got some big flaws, but Roanoke is really one of AHS's better seasons; it's on equal footing with Asylum and Murder House. They actually correct some of the mistakes that have ruined previous seasons. For one thing, the story feels like an actual story. Aside from a tacked-on ending standard to this series (which, even that still fits with the rest of the story), Roanoke is tight and intense and doesn't get as excessively campy as some previous seasons. In fact, here the campiness isn't just for cheap, trashy laughs, but it's all fairly in-character and lightens the mood when needed desperately. I'm also pleased that they tried writing characters this season, and not just vapid, garish, walking cliches who all inevitably become inhuman murderers with no consistent sense of morality. While occasionally over the top, most of these characters at least feel like actual humans. The show also doesn't try to constantly bash you over the head with its messages and symbolism; it saves that for the second half of the season, where such blatant stuff actually adds to this particular story.

This is definitely the most unique use of the AHS cast. Some of them have at least two to three roles, since they are playing characters who are actors playing other characters. The main and secondary characters switch places in the second half of the season. Lady Gaga, Alexandra Daddario and Finn Wittrock — after playing vampire sex gods last season — are all damn-near unrecognizable here as hideous backwoods freaks.

At the very least, this whole season is better than the majority of found footage movies "based on true events" that have come out in the last 10 or 15 years. They do an even better job at capitalizing on that particular gimmick than even last season with it's horror hotel themes.

Although AHS still upholds style over substance, I found Roanoke to be a solid piece of TV. It isn't perfect, but it's far superior to the creative disasters that were last the two or three seasons.

An Uptick in Quality

I`d just about written American Horror Story off. Season four`s Freak Show attempted something admirable but I got bored after a few episodes. Season fiveís Hotel was so bad, I only watched to the end of the first episode because I share a Netflix account, and didnít want to abandon the episode half way through the obnoxious Lady Gaga sex scene for the others to stumble across. Well Iíve sat down to Season 6: Roanoke and I have to say I am impressed by the improvement.

Each season has a different period and setting, but Roanoke goes one step further with a new postmodern format as well. Roanoke presents itself as a show within a show; specifically a daytime reality tv show about some couple`s time at a haunted house. This makes it quite interesting from the get go, as we get two versions of the story and two versions of every character (the "real life" people and the "actors" playing them in the show). There are gaps between what the real people experienced and what`s being shown by the tv documentary, so there is an underlying suspicion that the reality lies somewhere between either version of events. As the season goes on, Roanoke expands into a whole different bunch of other formats, including reality game shows, fly on the wall documentaries, and even fan made youtube videos. Basically it adds to the kitchen sink all the bargain bin, trashy, new narratives that have cropped up in the last ten years. I applaud that inventiveness, and Roanoke remains captivating throughout because of it.

Character-wise, we`ve got double the normal sized cast in this season. Newcomer Cuba Gooding Jr. bounces off of the series regulars, as well as an unrecognisable (sigh) Lady Gaga. I didnít have any problems keeping track of all these people, who in typical American Horror Story fashion all have their personal demons, which they shove in each other`s faces. My favourite has to be Kathy Bates though, type cast as an axe-crazy old bat, but showing us exactly why. I was less impressed by Sarah Paulson, who puts on the worst English accent I have seen in years. Sheís also the most likely to cause confusion, being that sheís both playing an actress pretending to be someone else, and an entirely different but identical looking character from a previous season.

I make the same criticism of this show every year. It is never scary. Thereís a pig man who keeps sending my wife through the roof with tedious jump scares, but itís all cheap. And considering how terrifying it would be to get lost in the woods for real, Iím surprised to see how television utterly fails to capture that horror every time. What can I say? I should accept this is a slightly overbearing drama that occasionally interrupts the flow with a random monster. But I canít, because though it admirably tries to give us something new every time, American Horror Story always needs to do better.
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