How creepy is too creepy? How dark is too dark? And how twisted is too twisted?
When it comes to TV shows, these questions depend largely on the venue (broadcast network or cable channel) on which the series airs and the willingness of the viewing audience to follow a show's actors, writers and producers as they explore the shadowy fringes of their combined creative consciousness.
The FX-network drama American Horror Story has, in two self-contained, anthology-style seasons, pretty much maxed out on its creepy/dark/twisted quotient, so it's not surprising to hear one of the show's producers declare the series' third season, the witchcraft-exploring American Horror Story: Coven, will offer fans a slightly lighter tone and, perish the thought, maybe even a few laughs along the way.
"I would say that the fun quotient is higher this year," writer and executive producer Tim Minear said of AHS: Coven, which airs Wednesdays on FX Canada (check listings for time). "Last year wasn't a lot of fun, let's put it that way. And maybe even Year 1 wasn't all that much fun.
"This year is a drama, but there is a lot of humour, and we are embracing a kind of velocity and fun with the series this year."
Perhaps it's that the theme that drives AHS's third season -- witchcraft -- has been explored in so many different TV projects -- from traditional comedies like Bewitched and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch to network dramas like Charmed and Eastwick to edgier cable titles such as True Blood and Lifetime's just-launched Witches of East End -- that prompted series creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk to have a bit more fun with the format.
Whatever the case, the pilot of AHS: Coven (which aired Oct. 9 on FX Canada) certainly displayed more of a sense of humour than the franchise's first two seasons -- which is not, however, to say Murphy and Falchuk have eased up on the gore, offbeat violence and freak-show-flavoured psychosexual misbehaviour.
AHS: Coven opens with a flashback to 1834, in the home of New Orleans socialite Madame Delphine LaLaurie (new cast addition Kathy Bates), who keeps a tidy household, but also maintains an upstairs torture chamber where she conducts bizarre experiments on kidnapped and imprisoned slaves.
She runs into trouble when it turns out one of the captive men is the husband of voodoo queen Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett), who arrives unannounced with an offer of a potion that will assist LaLaurie in her frenzied pursuit of eternal youth; the vial, of course, instead contains a seemingly lethal dose of revenge.
The story then jumps forward to the present, where a teenage girl named Zoe (Taissa Farmiga) has a first sexual encounter that turns out to be her boyfriend's last. After his rather graphically portrayed demise, Zoe is informed by her mother she is one of the females in her family's lineage who possess "special powers" and is quickly sent off to New Orleans to attend a very private school called Miss Robichaux's Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies.
Once in the care of headmistress Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson), she joins a small student body that includes a spoiled teen movie star (Emma Roberts) with telekinetic powers, a "human voodoo doll" (Gabourey Sidibe) who can make others feel her pain, and a third teen (Jamie Brewer) with powerful clairvoyant abilities.
Cordelia's message to the girls is that their powers must be controlled and concealed, but the arrival of the headmistress's mother, "supreme" witch Fiona Good (Jessica Lange), complicates matters because she believes 21st-century witches need to bring their powers out into the open.
"You teach them to cower and hide in the shadows," the elder witch scolds. "Do you really think, with Facebook and Twitter, that if a witch does anything at all, she won't be videotaped and turned into some viral freak show?"
It's a fair question, and it helped make the series premiere a pretty solid setup for what promises to be a creepy, dark, twisted and, perhaps, refreshingly funny new season of American Horror Story spell-casting.
"I went out for a drink with my friend Jessica after seeing the first season," Bates said recently when AHS: Coven's cast and producers met with TV critics during FX's portion of the U.S. networks' semi-annual press tour in Los Angeles. "And I said, 'You've got to get me on that show.' And I kind of thought it would be maybe a couple of, you know, episodes or whatever.
"And I met with Ryan, and I must say when he pitched this show to me, this little kid that lives inside all of us, I think, just started jumping up and down and running around and saying, 'I want to do it. I can do it like this. And what about if I say...' You know, it just got me so excited."
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