They say you can tell a lot about a person based on which season of American Horror Story is their favorite. And while there may be some truth to that, we can all agree the series has had some high points, as well as some lows over the past nine years.
So we thought it would be fun to take a look back at the series as a whole and rank each vastly different season from worst to best, or should we say least good to best?
Disclaimer: These are all just the opinions of one writer, and we would love to hear your favorites and rankings in the comments!
Among the many legitimate criticism of AHS, it seems that Coven embodies every single one of them. Between the rampant overuse of Dutch angles, to the random cutaway to a full blown Stevie Knicks music video, Coven perfectly demonstrates what happens when style is given priority over substance.
Granted, it has a lot of things that do work, such as brilliantly layered performances by Kathy Bates and Jessica Lange, as well as a really cool zombie episode.
In many ways, Coven felt like a cool idea that simply got bogged down it its own high school drama and obnoxious attempts to look and feel cool. However, it did give us strong characters, that we thankfully got to see in a better season years later.
Much like Coven, Cult was a season that had a fascinating concept, along with massive aspirations, but an execution that could have been done a lot better. In hindsight (which is always 20/20), perhaps it would have been better to use this season as more of an allegory for the political anarchy that was 2016, rather than base it directly on the real life election.
Because it blended a genuinely interesting subplot about Kai and his cult with real life election drama that bordered on soap opera with how melodramatic it got.
It portrays the Trump supporters as cartoonish, and the Hillary supporters as so overdramatic that they feel like satirical parodies of liberals (even though it was meant to be legitimate). It tried to tackle huge issues that it didn’t really have the knowledge or maturity to portray.
That said, Sarah Paulson still gives one of her best performances in the whole series (second only to Asylum). Again, the idea of the cult, and Kai manipulating everyone around him worked brilliantly, but the other parts of the season really held it back. Plus, the ending tried so hard to pat itself on the back, as if the series believed it had “solved” America.
After a ratings and critical highpoint for the series, AHS followed up Freak Show with a season that suffered the most style over substance since Coven, but still had a lot of cool ideas going for it.
Between the serial killer subplot, the vampire kids (which was the best part by far), and legitimately strong characters, Hotel had a lot of potential. It just got lost in all the slow motion and music video cutaways.
The Cortez was supposed to be a frightening and haunted hotel, but it looked way too glamorous. Even the in The Shining (which this season borrowed heavily from), the Overlook became far more decrepit and dirty when the thinly veiled surface was uncovered.
The ending of the season went for the same emotional-driven character poignancy as Freak Show or Asylum, but just fell slightly short.
Roanoke deserves an immense amount of credit for taking a huge risk and making a paramount departure from the look and style of the rest of the series. After Hotel, the AHS routine was getting a bit dull.
To be fair, Roanoke didn’t really know how to use its mockumentary style properly, but it deserves credit for trying. The entire first half didn’t really both the confessionals, or the elaborate detailed reenactments, as most “true” documentaries like this don’t have full dialogue scenes with their reenactors.
That said, the tonal shift in the second half was nothing short of brilliant, as it kept the suspense, all while successfully skewering the media and reality TV.
Unlike Cult, it wasn’t trying to pat itself on the back here, it just simply had something to say, and said it with grace and dark humor.
In many ways, this season felt like The Avengers of AHS, as we crossed over several seasons and characters into a story that had urgency, and real stakes. It took all the best characters and parts of Coven, and blended them with a fascinating and compelling story about stopping the end of the world.
The comic book comparison didn’t even stop there, as the ending went full Days of Future Past to fix everything. Honestly, the only major issues with this season was the most of the action was told in flashback, since it opened with the end of the world.
Perhaps it would have been better to let the apocalypse linger as impending doom throughout, but it’s a minor issue. And while the return to Murder House and closure with the Harmon family was fan service, it definitely felt earned!
Following a season with such finality as Apocalypse, it was difficult to tell where AHS was going, but the 80’s was certainly a great choice. We had had seasons before that toyed with different settings and subgenres, but never before had an entire season devoted itself solely to one genre, the way that 1984 did to the 80’s slasher.
And in many ways, it worked brilliantly. Much like Roanoke, the season was split into two distinct halves, one being a sequel to the other. It’s understandable that many would find its ending to be anticlimactic, especially after the buildup.
But in its final bittersweet moments, it perfectly capture the feeling of why we love nostalgia. The series finally learned to ditch all the ridiculous, over the top Dutch angles and style over substance issue, and yielded a great love letter to 80’s horror!
3. Freak ShowAdmittedly, Freak Show is the one season that probably has the least of amount of “horror” to it. But it ranks rather high among the other seasons for one main reason: its characters. At its core, AHS has always been about the characters, which is why we love watching the same cast members return year after year to demonstrate their range and variety with whom they portray.
Freak Show gave us a window to a group of misfits and outcasts that found a sense of camaraderie and family with one another. By the time we reached the end of the season, we felt like we have lived with and gotten to know these people for years, and it really struck that poignant feeling that Hotel tried and failed to.
Plus, Dandy is without a doubt the scariest killer on the series, because his progression from spoiled brat to homicidal maniac was done with time, care and subtlety (something this series often has a problem with).
2. Murder House
Perhaps it’s unfair to the other seasons to put this one so high, given its advantage over the rest. When Murder House first debuted, we simply knew it as “American Horror Story” and there was no baggage in the form of other seasons, no need to up the ante, and no agenda to try something outlandish to stay fresh. Instead, it told a simple and straightforward haunted house story with brilliant characters and plenty of fun scares.
The Halloween episode where Tate’s victims track him was particularly haunting and chilling. And while it was fun to revisit the Harmons many years later to give them something of a happy ending, this season sort of ended their story perfectly with the beautiful tragedy that was them learning to be family, finally in death.
While some have criticized our top pick for having way too much going on plotwise, in a weird way, it all sort of fits together in the end. Asylum worked because it wasn’t really the story of any one character, but rather Briarcliff itself and how each character was affected in the years that followed their time there. The asylum itself feels like a living, breathing organism, even more than the Murder House or Hotel Cortez.
Its characters were brilliant because not a single one of them was completely good or evil. We saw Lana as a victim, but also as a ruthless reporter, we saw Sister Jude demonstrate abusive power, but also great humility and sympathy when stripped of everything. We even saw a supposedly heartless Dr. Arden mourn the loss of Sister Mary Eunice because he loved her innocence.
Asylum showed us the morally gray areas that exist within us all, and took us on a journey that lasted over five decades. When we catch up with Lana in the present, we truly feel that we have lived the years with her. Overall, it was a season of great character arcs that had enough compelling subplots, that there was something for everyone to like.
Most importantly however, what do you think of AHS? Which seasons are your favorite and least favorite? We would love to hear your opinions, let us know in the comments below. And for more reviews, rankings, and fun horror content, follow Halloween Year-Round on Facebook and Twitter!