A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that American Horror Story's content is designed to shock, and parents should expect a variety of scary, disturbing, and graphic scenes that include strong language, sexual content, and violence. Each season of the show is set in a different milieu: a hotel, a school for witches, a secluded house; some settings may disturb viewers more than others. Audible swearing ranges from "s--t" to "c--ksucker," and scenes of sex and masturbation including partial nudity (mostly buttocks), as well as bondage, adultery, sexual violence, and more. There are rape scenes in several seasons; one particularly notorious one involves a supernatural rape, another has aspects of bestiality and incest. There are also sudden and shocking incidents involving blood, and both real and supernatural violence: acid attacks, amputations, shock therapy, high school shootings. Animals are killed with realistic bodies shown. There's also imagery related to drinking and drugs: injections, snorting cocaine, smoking pot.
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What's the story?
Each season of AMERICAN HORROR STORY centers on a different storyline, in a different location and time period. From present-day Los Angeles to a freak show in 1952 Florida, the dark, complex stories focus on witches, ghosts, the mentally ill, and strange American subcultures with each storyline acted by skilled actors ranging from Connie Britton to Jessica Lange to Kathy Bates. While each season is unique, they all use extreme examples to create social commentary on stereotypes, religion, race, and many more sensitive, but important topics.
Is it any good?
Let's get one thing straight right off the bat: American Horror Story comes from the minds of Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Dante Di Loreto -- the same men who created the peppily positive Emmy winner Glee. But it is nothing (and we mean nothing) like the feel-good TV musical that made Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" an anthem for outcasts everywhere. In fact, the two series play like polar opposites, except for the fact that underneath each series is biting social commentary.
That might not stop teen fans of Glee from wanting to watch Murphy & Co.'s immensely popular horror offering; however, parents should be fully aware that this darkly disturbing series with psycho-sexual undertones -- which has far more in common with Murphy and Falchuk's controversial cable series Nip/Tuck -- was clearly intended for adults, and not their children. But in truth, even many adults might not be ready for the show's frank depiction of horrors that we'd too often rather forget.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the show's central premise that "the world is a horror show" full of pain and man-made misery. Do you agree with that negative worldview, or do you believe the world to be a far more positive place?
Are there any similarities between American Horror Story and Glee (for example, the presence of teen bullies, or a character with Down syndrome)? How do the two series differ in terms of tone?
How does the show's presence on cable allow it to push the envelope when it comes to violence, language, and sexual content? What would the show look like if it were to air on network television? How would it have to change?
For kids who love thrills
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.