Midseason Report Card: ‘American Horror Story: Hotel’ has its work cut out for it

AHSWhat do you get when you have amazing actors, stellar visual effects, and one of the most supportive networks in the business? By and large, we consider that a recipe for success. However, a show is only as good as its story, and there is one glaring flaw in “American Horror Story: Hotel” that has it sinking to the bottom of the abyss.

In this edition of our Midseason Report Card series, we discuss how the FX series has managed to lose almost 70% of its live audience in the 18-49 demographic since its premiere, and how much of what it is doing right is completely offset by what it is doing wrong.

What worked – Visually, the show is stunning. The Hotel Cortez set is gorgeous at times and incredibly creepy at others. The music is top-notch, and the special effects for the blood and violence are better than almost anywhere else on cable. The cast is also spectacular: Wes Bentley, Kathy Bates, Denis O’Hare, Evan Peters, and many others are clearly doing their best, and many of them are captivating to watch. We know that Lady Gaga has been the target of some criticism, but we think she’s doing a fine job with the material given to her. Our issue is more of this said material.

What didn’t – We want to devote most of our time to identifying the flaws, since there are so many of them and they all stem from an over-indulgence on the part of the writers and an utter lack of focus for what this show should be.

Are we watching the story of John Lowe’s descent into madness and resurgence from it, the Countess’ journey to discover what she really wants, or a revenge tale of hotel employees striking back against their murderous boss? We have no idea. There are too many cast members that nobody has enough screen time, and there are characters nobody quite knows what to do with. Peters has been given very little to do as Mr. March other than rattle off exposition, Sarah Paulson has been woefully under-used, and it feels like a good percentage of Gaga’s time so far has just been either killing people or in sex scenes. Why would’ve much preferred if Gaga did a role that was actually far less edgy, such as demure patron of the hotel or someone completely cut off from the horrors of the world. It would’ve been more interesting to see her play something more different from her entertainer character we’ve seen in music videos.

This is a show that doesn’t know what it wants to be, and thanks to that, it’s a show that is confusing, tiresome, and uneventful for long stretches. “The Ten Commandments Killer” was an almost-unwatchable hour, as was trying to get into the backstory of Mr. March at the dinner table with many other famed killers. While we’ve seen a little more cohesion in recent weeks, it’s hard to get invested when we really haven’t been for a long time.

Overall – There was an eagerness by so many people to get into this season, but that eagerness was lost a few episodes in when the show lacked a clear hook or a character you really wanted to root for. The market wins more often than not, and clearly the decline in ratings shows that we’re not alone in these assertions that this is a show in desperate need of a life-vest. Grade: C-.

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