That’s sort of how the show rolls. Helmed by series maestro Ryan Murphy, it has a tone that veers wildly, and it gives off a madcap air of not caring whether it makes sense or hews to any of the conventions of narrative television. Sometimes it channels profound terror and sadness, something essentially American that drives the series’ core ideas and beliefs. Sometimes it presents something so ridiculous that you have to turn off the television and think about what you’ve been doing with your life while staring out the window at the world passing you by. Sometimes it does both of those things in the same scene.
But the genuinely groundbreaking structure of American Horror Story — it pioneered the “anthological miniseries,” where each new season tells a brand new story, though often with some of the same cast members — means that it’s almost always worth keeping an eye on, even if you’re not actively watching it.
And the debut of the show’s eighth season, Apocalypse, which is bringing back characters from the first and third seasons, is guaranteed to bring with it the annual phenomenon of people tuning in for the debut episode, remembering that the show is maybe not to their taste, and then tuning out for future installments.
Despite all this, I enjoy American Horror Story, and I think at least one of its seasons is a genuine TV masterpiece. Others boast enough good elements that I’m willing to recommend them. But there are also some seasons that are just terrible. So let’s rank the seven complete seasons of American Horror Story, from worst to best.
Hotel (season 5, aired in 2015-’16)
Let me tell you about the curse of American Horror Story, which is that literally every time I’ve said anything about the show getting back on track, it has immediately proceeded to trash my goodwill with a string of episodes that just don’t work.
So it went with Hotel, which in the early going seemed to be using vampire-like beings living in a grimy LA hotel and played by the likes of Lady Gaga (the star who is born herself) to examine humanity’s inability to cope with grief. It was a poignant, interesting idea! I said so! On Twitter even!
Then in the second half of the season, the most ridiculous twist in a series full of ridiculous twists completely undercut the emotional resonance of everything that happened in the first half, and the season mostly petered out. I kinda liked Gaga, though!