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Where you read it first | Monday, June 24, 2024

‘American Horror Story: Delicate’ is a sleek rebirth

The new season of AHS maintains the series’ camp elements but provides a more modern aesthetic.

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The "American Horror Story" logo is pictured.

The 12th season of “American Horror Story” (2011–) premiered on FX on Sept. 20, streaming on Hulu the next day. The new season, titled “Delicate,” marks a shift in the anthology, introducing new cast members Kim Kardashian and Cara Delevigne for the latest installment. “Delicate” is based on Danielle Valentine’s novel “Delicate Condition” (2023), and explores the anxiety of pregnancy through the paranoia of its lead character and the uncertainty of what is growing within her. With this season, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, co-creators and executive producers, are strongly leaning into a new style of AHS while retaining the camp humor classic to the show. 

“Delicate” follows Anna Alcott (Emma Roberts), a celebrity determined to become pregnant. Set in an elegant New York, the season focuses on stardom and the threats of being in the public eye. Anna becomes increasingly frightened by signs of a stalker and threats to her pregnancy, but ultimately, her greatest fear is the mystery of what is inside of her — and whether or not it's human.

Die-hard “AHS” fans have generally stuck by the anthology throughout its run, but this season has received mixed reviews by critics and audience members alike. The aesthetic of the season is certainly missing the charm that elevated the show from a horror series to a cultural phenomenon in the mid-2010s. The angst of the teenage characters in early seasons was felt on a Tumblr-poetic level by viewers of the same age. The show’s fashion was also culturally significant, both reflecting and inspiring the style of the time. One such example being season three’s “Coven,” whose whimsy and witchiness paralleled the layering trends and dark color palette of fall 2013. Other seasons set in more distant time periods did not have such a close relationship with contemporary fashion, but nonetheless hold a nostalgic quality due to their popularity and relevance at the time.

With “Delicate,” there seems to be more of a cultural disconnect. The past two seasons, “Double Feature” and “NYC,” had fewer than a million viewers for their premieres, a far cry from the 6.13 million who tuned into the premiere of season four in 2014. It seems the show is marketing itself as something different to attract a larger audience, but are the changes in the show’s style ruining what made it special? Instead of the grainy, filtered look of the earlier seasons, “Delicate” opts for a sleek and modern aesthetic, with its cinematography mirroring some episodes of Netflix’s “Black Mirror” (2011–). With the theme of pregnancy at its core, the story itself is geared towards an older audience, who may not be able to overlook plot holes and weaknesses in the show’s script quite so easily as the teenagers who adored the edginess of the earlier seasons. 

A large draw for this season was the casting of Kim Kardashian and Cara Delevigne. While Delevigne has notoriously offbeat humor that is characteristic of the show, the choice to include Kim Kardashian was surprising and intriguing. Although Kardashian’s acting isn’t necessarily on par with her costars, she was cast in a role that suits her — literally. She is most comfortable in a suit and heels, playing the successful business executive she is in real life. Although her inclusion is thought by some to be a mere marketing gimmick, it is not out of character for a show that has historically benefited from celebrity features. The show’s fifth season, “Hotel,” was widely discussed for Lady Gaga’s role as the hotel’s resident vampire, many even claiming that she was the best part of the season. Is it somewhat depressing to watch Kim Kardashian’s character strategizing Anna’s social media engagement, given the negative influence Kardashian herself has had on a generation’s self-esteem? Perhaps. But it’s the entertainment business, and actors can only escape from their off-screen personality to a certain extent. Her appearances in the show are not only entertaining, but address the issue of stalkers and female celebrities, something Kardashian has dealt with in her own life. 

Although the season is stylistically less playful than previous seasons, it continues to incorporate campy lines and characters. From the show’s beginning, Murphy and Falchuk have weaved theatrics and absurdities into each season. The gore is often over the top and characters are written to be strange yet humorously self-aware. Ms. Preecher of “Delicate” is reminiscent of Myrtle Snow of “Coven,” (known for her dying words, “Balenciaga”) carrying her Marc Jacobs “The Tote Bag”-esque accessory with the word “Preech” on its side. The show’s eccentricity continues to shine in its latest installment.

“Delicate” is undoubtedly different from the earlier seasons of AHS in look and vibe, but retains its distinctive humor and continues to be displayed prominently on Hulu. Clearly, the show’s writers have not run out of ideas and have chosen an interesting path, basing the season on a 2023 thriller novel and casting Kardashian and Delevingne. Due to the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, the second half of the season will not return until 2024. Until then, we wait in suspense. 

Summary “American Horror Story: Delicate” lacks the excitement and thematic allure of earlier seasons but leaves viewers curious with the midseason finale.
3 Stars
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