Why Some Fans Don’t Like the New Season of ‘American Horror Story’

Ryan Murphy’s various shows, whether they’re Nip/Tuck, Glee, or Scream Queens, always seem to share this trajectory: They start off brilliantly, then devolve into wild nonsense, with Murphy and/or his writers throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. 

The same is true of American Horror Story, and the latest incarnation, 1984, is coming in for a specific criticism, namely, that there are just too many boogeymen. 

Sarah Paulson interviewed about American Horror Story
Actor Sarah Paulson | Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Does ‘AHS: 1984’ have too many bad guys?

In reviewing the latest season, Molly Horan of the AV Club writes:

“American Horror Story: 1984 is starting to resemble that Spider-Man meme of all the different Spider-Men pointing at each other in recognition. If the camp is completely overrun with killers, do they start canceling each other out, in the same way an overload of poison can cause your body to reject it?”

Horan notes that there were so many twists in episode 4 that the knot was hard to untangle. With a whole bunch of backstories in play, the episode mainly seemed to be spinning its wheels.

In trying to repeatedly knock the viewer off-balance, the show shoots itself in the foot.  Horan described a fight between two characters that she said seemed pretty evenly matched, but there was a big problem: She wasn’t sure whom to root for, and that made it hard to get invested in the episode. 

And it isn’t just Horan who has an issue. In its ranking of the first eight seasons of American Horror Story, Vulture picked season 4, “Freak Show,” as the worst, with a major complaint being that “Freak Show gave us a different villain every week … In the end, it was all just too confusing and annoying to enjoy.”

How have past ‘AHS’ seasons been received?

On Rotten Tomatoes, the show has an average rating of 77 percent. The worst-reviewed season is Season 5, called Hotel. The critical consensus for that show reads, “Favoring garish style over effective storytelling, the fifth American Horror Story strands a talented cast at Ryan Murphy’s Hotel.” 

Sonia Saraiya of Salon criticized not just too many villains but too much of everything in multiple Murphy shows. She wrote, “Ryan Murphy must be stopped … Murphy’s lobbing grenades every few minutes, in all of his shows, and explosiveness comes with a price.”

The 1984 season scores a high 94 percent, but that’s based on very few reviews. Audience reviews are all over the map, with some loving the show, but Donald R responds, “I don’t get all the praise for this season. A weak, very lame villain paired with a story we’ve all seen before. Acting is terrible and it feels like they should have put this out about 4 years ago.” 

Other franchises with excessive villains

It’s interesting that Horan started out her review referring to the image of multiple Spider-Mans, because that film franchise has been knocked twice for having too many bad guys. It happened with Spider-Man 3, which featured Sandman, Venom and a new version of the Green Goblin.

Then it happened again in Amazing Spider-Man 2, with Electro, The Rhino and still another version of the Green Goblin all giving Spider-Man grief.

Batman has been guilty of this as well. In the 80s/90s franchise, only the first movie had one significant villain: Jack Nicholson’s Joker. Batman Returns upped the ante with Danny DeVito’s Penguin, Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman and Christopher Walken’s Max Schreck. Batman Forever gave us the two-fer of The Riddler and Two-Face, while the infamous Batman and Robin gave us Mister Freeze and Poison Ivy.

Even Christopher Nolan’s series got some criticism when The Dark Knight Rises gave us Bane, Catwoman and the return of the forces of Ra’s Al Ghul.

As long as Hollywood subscribes to the “more is more” method of telling stories, too many villains will always become a problem. However this season of AHS comes out, Murphy will almost certainly be back with a new season, and maybe he could surprise us by keeping it simple. We won’t place any bets, though.