The best leap of faith on television right now is a fresh season of “American Horror Story”. The FX anthology series enjoys introducing a bizarre new nightmare every season and exposing its ensemble of recognisable characters to whatever brand-new misery is in store. Fans’ annual attendance for the promise of something new challenges “AHS” to perform at its worst, which it occasionally does. Even so, it can be difficult to reject a different taste.
It was a game-changer when the first season of the show, now known as “Murder House,” by creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, was released in 2011. That show’s first season was an unrestrained combination of horror, Hollywood, and history; not to mention Dylan McDermott crying while masturbating within the first hour. It brought the legendary Jessica Lange to television and allowed her to play a variety of roles for four seasons, as well as giving Connie Britton the chance to tarnish her reputation as television’s best mother, aka Tami Taylor from “Friday Night Lights.”
But “American Horror Story’s” most terrifying wager has always been the choice to start over with a fresh narrative each season. With each season anchored by a dependable stable of stars like Lange, Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Kathy Bates, Francis Conroy, Lily Rabe, Angela Bassett, Billie Lourd, Emma Roberts, Leslie Grossman, and Denis O’Hare, it paid off by generating enough goodwill and cyclical curiosity to keep audiences interested for 10 more seasons and counting.
The franchise, which is now in its double-digits age, may no longer be the cultural pillar it once was, but the obvious excitement of that yearly leap into the unknown is still present. Here is how the first 11 seasons of “American Horror Story” rate, from worst to greatest, with “American Horror Story: Delicate” serving as the franchise’s 12th installment this fall.
American Horror Story Seasons Ranked
Double Feature (Season 10, 2021):
“AHS” has battled its own worst impulse to discuss too many concepts at once since the outset. The mashups can occasionally be creative or just “Double Feature.” This season at least had the decency to separate its concepts into two distinct halves: “Death Valley,” a time-hopping extraterrestrial odyssey that would baffle even Mulder and Scully, and “Red Tide,” a vampire/opioid cautionary tale about the soul-sucking price of creation in off-season Provincetown. The second of the two is the kind of perplexing dud that has led to a decline in the series’ viewership in more recent years.
After missing Season 9, Paulson comes back as an immortal Mamie Eisenhower, and in some of the show’s more outlandish revisionist history, Rabe plays an alien-abducted Amelia Earhart. In addition, a gruesome subplot involves two men bearing alien children to term. Despite the fact that this was the season’s shorter half, none of it worked. Whether it was through alien probes or fangs, the two-for-one offer simply drained the life out of the audience.
NYC (Season 11, 2022):
This season’s advertising relied heavily on blood imagery and was set in 1980s New York City, which led some to speculate that it may touch on the terrible emergence of AIDS. In a way, it did. Of course, it did it in “AHS” fashion. Enter the city’s sensual BDSM scene, a serial murderer who orders Mai Tais for his victims before mutilating them, as well as a huge angel/harbinger of death tied in leather and a harness. The only rational argument is Why not by the time Patti LuPone appears as a cabaret singer in a bathhouse.
The queer community being abandoned by medics and law enforcement to perish at the hands of an invisible killer or very human ones—possibly the most realistic terror the programme has ever depicted—”NYC” could have used a little more subtlety. It will provide enraging context on the inaction of the police and the rise of groups like the Anti-Violence Project. “AHS: NYC” just touches the surface in that regard.
Cult (Season 7, 2017):
By 2016, the “AHS” style of terror was no match for the terrifying reality that Americans were forced to live with every day in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. The programme therefore used our country’s nightmare as fuel. Paulson plays a phobia-ridden wife and mother in the movie “Cult,” who is terrorised by a local cult of neighbours who follow a teenage leader (Peters) who was inspired by Donald Trump and who issues gory commands. Sadly, “Cult” failed to deliver on its promise of being a timely investigation of fear in all of its manifestations.
Don’t misunderstand us. High comedy can be found in Paulson’s teary-eyed cry as she earnestly asks, “What’s going to happen to Merrick Garland?”
1984 (Season 9, 2019):
Oh, the possibilities if “American Horror Story” had ended with a lighthearted slasher thriller set in a summer camp. It seemed as though it was finally happening when the “1984” retro teasers began to appear in the run-up to the show’s autumn 2019 premiere.
In fact, the first few episodes are one lengthy, gory chase scene through Camp Redwood, which was full with counsellors who became victims. The camp serving as a time loop from hell, the story turned out to be a Groundhog Day of massacres as it continued. The excitement of the slashing eventually grew stale since everyone kept reappearing.
It was time to send the youngsters home and declare this season a failure by the time Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker, and his vindictive, never-ending spirit, took centre stage.
Apocalypse (Season 8, 2018):
The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s “Avengers: Endgame” would be “Apocalypse” if “American Horror Story” were the MCU. It represents the climax of a mythology of terrifying tales that was previously connected only by thin strands before being strung up by a noose of its own making. The narrative then changes to the prophesied fight between the witches of “Coven,” their attention-seeking warlock counterparts, and Michael Langdon (Cody Fern), the antichrist born during the events of “Murder House.” The season begins with a nuclear nightmare played out in a gothic fallout shelter.
Years of fan speculations about how the seasons related to one another were validated by the crossover season. Hell, it even brought back Jessica Lange and the entire cast of “Murder House” (hey, Connie Britton!) and let franchise newcomer Joan Collins to savour scenery and raw human flesh. It was actually thrilling to return to the show’s glory days, and it would rank considerably higher on this list if it weren’t for the season’s dramatic collapse, which started with Episode 7 once the high of “Coven” Part 2 worn off. Let’s just say that it’s unlikely that anyone’s Season 8 bingo card had cocaine-addicted computer bros helping the antichrist finance the end times.
By the time it was through, “Apocalypse” had revealed the drawback of creating a multi-property, interconnected universe: It all grew too complicated and demonstrated that the pleasure of “AHS” lies in the vivid worlds it creates before putting them to rest, not in its intricate web of relationships. Additionally, “Apocalypse” ends with a few perfectly timed vehicular homicides rather than the end of the world.
Freak Show (Season 4, 2014):
At its core, Lange’s final performance as the lead woman delivers a unique and aesthetically stunning approach to horror. Yes, Twisty the Clown is killing people with clubs in 1950s Florida, and the crazy man-child Dandy Mott (Finn Wittrock) serves as a reminder of the festering taint of privilege. The strongest moments of ‘Freak Show’ are when it pays adoring but edgy homage to early Hollywood carny films like ‘Freaks’ and ‘Carnival of Souls’. Empathy was made possible by shedding light on the found-family groups that society shuns, which went hand in hand with the carnage that pervaded the travelling company of popular freaks.
Paulson’s outstanding dual performance as conjoined twins Bette and Dot was the season’s biggest twist (and it’s a shame she didn’t win an Emmy for it). Don’t undervalue Lange, though, as she perfectly captures the terrible yearning of ageing show owner Elsa Mars as she frantically searches for her final opportunity to become a star.
Hotel (Season 5, 2015):
Similar to “Murder House,” “Hotel” enjoys the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and all its vices. The season is most known as the Lady Gaga performance and is set inside the Hotel Cortez, a lavish but increasingly empty hotel overtaken by development and towers in downtown Los Angeles. Gaga is every bit the extravagant, stylish, and seductively deadly siren you want her to be in her role as the Countess. But even without her alluring presence, “Hotel” managed to assemble one of the franchise’s most dynamic and cohesive ensembles, many of whom were forced to live together as the hotel’s permanent tenants against their reluctance.
As the bubbly hostess Liz Taylor, O’Hare steals the show. Paulson is loose as the fittingly titled Hypodermic Sally, and Peters is menacingly nasty as Mr. March, the hotel’s builder and the first to leave a trail of dead people behind. Because it takes time away from the rest of the dynamic cast, the season’s obsessive concentration on the Ten Commandments Killer storyline may be its biggest flaw.
Roanoke (Season 6, 2016):
For several reasons, including the fact that it is a fantastic season of television and we won’t hear otherwise, one of the more contentious “AHS” seasons scores highly on this list. “Roanoke” was the only season that kept its topic a secret until the first episode aired, therefore anticipation levels were at their highest. It starts off as a bloody parody of America’s craze with true crime documentaries. The narrative of a couple whose North Carolina home is haunted by the settlers and victims of the Lost Colony is told in “My Roanoke Nightmare” as the show-within-the-show (ignore the California mountains the programme mysteriously neglected to remove from the background).
But in Episode 6, the programme comes to an end, and the narrative changes behind the scenes to follow the cast of that documentary and their real-life equivalents as they all return to the haunted house to record a follow-up documentary, only to discover that everything they had been told was true. Some have criticised “Roanoke” for having a stupid structure, yet the show very deftly exploits the visual conventions of the true crime craze before practically tearing them apart in some of its best slasher episodes.
Nothing is more amusing than Bates’ portrayal of a crazed actress who is unable to break free from her role as the murdering leader of the Lost Colony, only to receive a cleaver to the head from the ghost of that very woman. And let’s face it, there is no better place to start than our 400-year fixation with this country’s first unresolved mystery if this franchise truly intends to pinpoint irrefutable American tragedies.
Asylum (Season 2, 2012):
The ultimate success of an anthology series is determined by its second season, thus the fact that “Asylum” brought nearly everything “Murder House” had accomplished to a whole new level is proof of how excellent it is. It is set in 1964 inside Briarcliff Asylum and depicts Sister Jude’s (Lange) despotic rule over her unwilling new patient Lana Winters (Paulson), a lesbian news reporter who is institutionalised after breaking in to try to interview a notorious killer. Once inside, she encounters medical malpractice and the lengths to which those with influence and faith will go in order to conceal their transgressions.
This season has it everything, including nuns, Nazis, aliens, electroshock therapy, the Angel of Death, Bloody Face the killer, Adam Levine of Maroon 5 (sure!) and an exquisitely weird rendition of “The Name Game.” But more than anything, “Asylum” has a sense of completion and closure that is rewarding in a manner that no other season has, from the opening kidnapping scene to the concluding televised showdown between mother and homicidal son.
Murder House (Season 1, 2011):
The very straightforward notion of “Murder House”—the horrors we conceal behind closed doors—is embedded into its walls, and everything explored therein continues to serve as the franchise’s guiding principle. The iconic setting is one that has been sanctified by death and is now home to the ghosts of its former inhabitants (see also: “Asylum,” “Hotel,” “Roanoke,” and “1984”). The cost of fame, lust, and power is something that people find fascinating (see also: every season). The ambitious storyline is the most important factor. Where “Murder House” differs from (most of) what came after is in that last one.
There is a staggering amount of drama baked into the first season, from the breakup of the Harmon family (Britton, McDermott, and Taissa Farmiga), to the tragedy of Tate Langdon’s school shooting (Peters), to the merciless mission of a damaged mother (Lange). It even finds room for a murdering dentist, a dumped lover, a reclusive outcast, its notorious gimp costume, and an intricate theory regarding the murder of the Black Dahlia. It manages to do all of those stories justice and more, which cannot be said of more recent seasons. Without the groundwork set by “Murder House,” which demonstrated how it might be done, “AHS” would not have been possible.
Coven (Season 3, 2013):
When it accepted the witchy women of Miss Robichaux’s Academy, “AHS” was at its most current culturally. A New Orleans coven of witches, led by the egotistical, power-hungry Supreme Fiona Goode (Lange), must fight the external and internal forces threatening their destiny. “Coven” was the first episode of “AHS” to properly qualify as a phenomenon when it debuted, and with good cause. The season had a certain look and, to be honest, a certain swagger that made it both approachable for the general public and effortlessly cool. The witches have to deal with the unpleasantness of supernatural succession as well as the fear of the underworld.
Remember the ongoing conflict between real-life NOLA figures Marie Laveau (Bassett), a voodoo queen, and Delphine LaLaurie (Bates), a mass murderer. But there is also a whimsical element to its portrayal of witches, including the use of Stevie Nicks, the White Witch, as a musical guest. Other seasons of “AHS” included on this list have had trouble achieving that precisely balanced tone and execution. But when done properly, it works like magic. Take our word for it, or the franchise, if you don’t. The cosmos of “AHS” is not uniform, as demonstrated by the witches’ reappearance in “Apocalypse.” Every other season is only a part of “Coven’s” world, and that is where it takes place.