Where to Stream It? Hulu (two new episodes every Thursday)
Starring: Russell Tovey, Joe Mantello, Billie Lourd, Denis O’Hare, Charlie Carver, Leslie Grossman, Sandra Bernhard, Isaac Cole Powell, Zachary Quinto, Patti LuPone
Created By: Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk
The first two episodes were screened for this review. This review contains spoilers.
Hot off Ryan Murphy’s recent success with Netflix, his long-running horror anthology series has returned for its eleventh season.
This season, titled American Horror Story: NYC, has a new release format. Over the course of five weeks, two episodes will air every Wednesday night on FX before streaming on Hulu the next day. Remember when we had to wait an entire YEAR for new AHS seasons to hit streaming? Glad we’re past that.
FX was especially mum on any details about this season ahead of its premiere. Like everyone else I went into my viewing of last night’s episodes completely unaware of what would happen.
Despite a somewhat slow start (at least by American Horror Story standards), I found this season’s premise intriguing enough to peak my interests. This go-round will feel familiar, if not slightly redundant, to longtime fans of the Murphy-verse. It also has happens to be the queerest season yet.
An American (Gay, Kinky, Possibly Political) Horror Story
AHS: NYC takes place in 1981, which also happens to be the year that AIDS was first clinically reported in the United States.
The story follows a gay couple- Patrick (Russel Tovey), a detective who’s in the closet, and Gino (Joe Mantello) a writer for a gay newspaper called The Native. Each man has encountered reports of a serial killer who has been murdering gay men in the seedy world of leather bars and gay bathhouses.
They cross paths with Adam (Charlie Carver) who reports to Patrick that his roommate has gone missing when he was cruising late at night in Central Park. Adam saw a muscular man wearing a harness and a gimp mask who he believes has either kidnapped or killed his friend.
Later on we find out this mysterious man is known as “Big Daddy” and is working together with a Mapplethorpe-esque photographer, Theo (Isaac Powell), and his business associate/sugar daddy Sam (Zachary Quinto).
As Patrick, Gino, and Adam attempt to hunt down whatever is going on with these killings and/or Big Daddy, a doctor named Hannah (Billie Lourd) is investigating a mysterious disease that is is developing on Fire Island.
Although this disease seems to be its own, fictional thing, its hard to shake the possible inspiration from the real-life AIDS crisis. And there are a number of characters and situations in this show that resemble actual people and moments from queer history.
I should also mention that Patti LuPone plays a singer in a bathhouse, so there’s that (fun fact- this is how Bette Midler started her career).
But Where is This Headed?
So far things play out in this season like gay pulp fiction or perhaps the infamous Al Pacino film, Cruising. There are some hints dropped that supernatural elements may be coming in future weeks, but none are present in the first two episodes.
Watching this back-to-back with Netflix’s Dahmer series, also produced by Ryan Murphy, I have to wonder if we are overdosing a bit on queer trauma stories.
Specific narrative echoes to the AIDS crisis make me question what the season will be trying to say, if anything, by the time we reach the season finale. Putting real-life trauma on screen with Dahmer brings about enough issues as it is, but inserting actual tragedies into a fictional horror show could be a disaster.
I should also note that this season is missing some of the biggest stars from the AHS franchise, at least so far. There’s no Sarah Paulson, no Evan Peters, no Emma Roberts, and no Kathy Bates. Billie Lourd and Joe Mantello have a lot of heavy lifting to do but so far the ensemble cast seems just fine.
Yet one has to wonder how much gas is really left in the tank here for the anthology series. Several moments in this show feels like a copy-and-paste collage of previous Murphy projects.
Final Verdict- AHS: NYC Review
Like most Ryan Murphy shows, I’m drawn in by the spectacle and will probably stay until the end. Although, unfortunately (speaking from experience) the premiere episode is usually where things peak.
Murph and Co. could pull a Hail Mary by the end of this season and put together an intriguing story with thoughtful commentary on our society from a queer perspective. But so many things could go wrong along the way.
Especially after sitting through ten hours of The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, I have to wonder if I really want to see more gay men getting murdered on television. Can’t we go back to witches and ghosts and Lady Gaga as a glamorous vampire?