October 7, 2015, television audiences will be able to check-in at the Hotel Cortez, the fictional setting at the heart of the fifth season of Ryan Murphy's American Horror Story, aptly given the tagline Hotel. The season gained considerable media coverage when it was announced that leading lady Jessica Lange would be bowing out and taking Ms. Lange's place as the grand dame of this revolving door of reprising and returning actors would be none other than the eye-catching and controversial Lady Gaga.
As the season premiere for Hotel looms around the corner like a pair of creepy twins at the end of a corridor at The Overlook, long-time fans of the series are strongly divided on what to think of Season 5 as more information (from guest stars to character arcs) becomes available.
I am unafraid to admit that I'm a bit conflicted myself, wavering between excited to downright leery and skeptical... and with tremendously good reason.
With that in mind, we're going to take a look at five reasons why you should check-in at Hotel... or why you should probably just check-out entirely and consider spending the saved viewing time on something a bit more industrious.
REASON #1 TO CHECK-OUT OF HOTEL - NO MORE LANGE
After having a show-stealing supporting role in the first season of AHS, the amazingly talented Jessica Lange became the centerpiece of the series and its unquestionable leading lady. Viewers tuned in whenever possible to watch her snark, sass, and the seductive way she commanded attention through her portrayals of Sister Jude, Fiona Goode, and Elsa Mars.
When last season - Freak Show - came to an end, Lange announced that it was, indeed, her final season. That immediately turned off many fans to this season of AHS even before it had begun filming, and the announcement of Lady Gaga taking her place did very little to calm down or comfort fans. That's understandable considering Lady Gaga has very little acting experience and is filling the stilettos of such an accomplished thespian like Lange... in a season where creator Ryan Murphy claims we won't be seeing "any" musical sequences (something that would have made more sense to utilize this season due to Gaga's presence).
REASON #1 TO CHECK-IN AT HOTEL - NO MORE LANGE
While Lange was definitely one of the major draws of the series - and the show, without a doubt, is going to feel like it's missing something without her presence - the fact does remain that there definitely was a contingent of viewers who wanted to see Lange take more of a supporting role again in place of letting one of the other talented cast members take the leading role for at least one season.
While it's unfortunate we will be without Lange... that just means there is a chance we could see more focus and screen time devoted to the talents of the other AHS veterans who have signed on for this season, including Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Angela Bassett, and Kathy Bates, as well as newcomers such as Naomi Campbell and Cheyenne Jackson.
REASON #2 TO CHECK-OUT OF HOTEL - NO MORE CONROY
Frances Conroy was one of five actors - alongside Lange, Paulson, Peters, and Lily Rabe - to appear in every season of AHS. This season will mark the first time that the multi-faceted actress will be sitting on the sidelines due to her filming of the HULU show Casual.
Conroy - best known for her portrayal as the matriarch of the Fisher family in the macabre Six Feet Under - has often been described as the opposing force of Lange's characters throughout all their shared seasons of AHS, usually with the two ladies portraying characters that were direct rivals to each other. With Conroy absent, a talented lady with the ability to really tug on the heartstrings of the AHS audience, it'll be interesting to see who will be the emotional anchor of this season... or if there will be one at all considering this season has been hinted at being the bloodiest of all (hard to imagine considering the total body count of last season's Freak Show).
REASON #2 TO CHECK-IN AT HOTEL - MANY HAPPY RETURNS!
Nearly the entire cast for Hotel has been revealed and I only say nearly because knowing Ryan Murphy, there are probably one or two late additions that'll be added to the cast just prior to the finale (as Neil Patrick Harris was last season) or are being purposely kept secret as a surprise (rumors are already circulating that Lange may show up in a cameo). Even with Conroy out this year, AHS is bursting at the seams with exceptional actors and actresses!
This season's cast sees Rabe, Peters, and Paulson continue their streaks of being featured in every season while Bates and Bassett also return for their third go-around in the series. Wes Bentley, Matt Bomer, and Freak Show's breakout star Finn Wittrock are also signed on for their sophomore year under the AHS umbrella, as is Chloe Sevigny (who hasn't been seen since Season 2's Asylum). Denis O'Hare will also be working at the Hotel Cortez and Christine Estabrook is said to be returning as Marcy, the realtor in Season 1's Murder House, more than likely as a way of bridging Season 1 with Season 5. This season will see many happy returns, giving us some solace in respect to Lange and Conroy's departures, and will feature some new faces joining the cast such as legendary supermodel Naomi Campbell, Broadway star Cheyenne Jackson, and Glee's Darren Criss.
It should be interesting to see who will be vying for the Emmy Awards this year with Lange out of the picture and the top-caliber performances most of these actors are known for turning out!
REASON #3 TO CHECK-OUT OF HOTEL - TOO MANY DAMN CHARACTERS
A cast this size is fine for a standard television show that has, say, your regular order of 22 episodes or so (a la Once Upon a Time, Grey's Anatomy, etc.), but even then, it can be tricky to give everyone enough screen time and actually allow the audience time to invest in characters and care about them and their respective paths throughout the duration of the show.
Cut down the number of episodes to 13 as well as fluctuating run times for different episodes and add on the gimmick of each season being an entirely new story with entirely new characters and it's obvious to see what one of AHS's main problems is: there are just too many damn characters!
Last season suffered dramatically from having a large cast, with characters missing for large periods of time over the course of several episodes, resulting in the waste of perfectly good talent. It was downright frustrating at times to watch Angela Bassett deliver one forgettable line at the end of an episode where the writers had seemingly forgotten she existed and even more exasperating to see new characters added to the cast but not adding much of anything to the actual story. With so many people popping up at Hotel Cortez, it's entirely plausible that Hotel could suffer the same fate as Freak Show.
REASON #3 TO CHECK-IN AT HOTEL - INTRIGUING STORYLINES
This time around, Ryan Murphy and Co. seem to be much more forthcoming with the character arcs they have planned for Hotel... it almost feels as if things are actually thought out compared to previous seasons where it felt as if the writers were making things up as they went along.
This season, we've been told that Sarah Paulson - the perennial "good girl" of the cast - is finally going to take a walk on the dark side as drug addict Hypodermic Sally. Lily Rabe arrives at The Cortez as real-life murderess Aileen Wuornos for the Halloween episode and Darren Criss's character manages to run afoul of Kathy Bates's hotel manager character, Iris, with his constant and annoying requests.
Lady Gaga's character - referred to as The Countess - is a glamorous blood-sucker (not a traditional vampire, but rather someone interested in feeding off of blood in general) who is a former flame of Ramona Royale (Bassett) and in a relationship with Donovan (Matt Bomer). A love triangle ensues involving The Countess, Donovan, and a mysterious model played by Wittrock and it's also been confirmed that a foursome involving Bomer and Gaga's characters ends in a double-homicide. Aside from all of this, The Countess also has an affinity for snatching children and taking them in as her own... just as Wes Bentley's character comes to The Cortez while dealing with the sudden disappearance of his own child. What's even more unsettling is that it has been heavily implied that the children also feed off of blood (I keep getting the feeling we will see at least one scene where they attack someone like a wild pack of dogs).
Such possibilities for storylines are exciting to hear and (hopefully) exciting to see unfold. Unfortunately, that leads us to...
REASON #4 TO CHECK-OUT OF HOTEL - LADY GAGA
For the record, I am a fan of Lady Gaga. I'm not an obscene, melodramatic, over-the-top fan, mind you... but I like and respect her work and appreciate the way she expresses herself. With that being said, it's obvious that Gaga is not everyone's cup of tea. For that reason alone, some people are definitely going to tune out without even giving her a shot to prove herself.
More importantly, she is an unproven actress aside from her brief appearance in Machete Kills. Promoted as the leading lady of this season, a good portion of the success of Hotel is going to hinge on her ability to carry a story. While it's apparent that the Poker Face queen is going to be down for anything Murphy throws her way, part of the success of this show has been the cast's ability to act their way through half-assed storylines and plots that sometimes make no sense or have no pay-off.
Only time will tell if Gaga's Countess is able to keep the boat afloat like Lange's Elsa or Fiona.
REASON #4 TO CHECK-IN AT HOTEL - LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Keeping up with the theme that every odd-numbered season takes place in the present day, it'll be fun to actually see modern conveniences portrayed in Hotel in a setting that is most likely going to pay homage to other hotel-based horror pieces such as Psycho and The Shining.
The fact that this season will be in the present day will greatly give Gaga and a few others an advantage in the acting department where they won't be confined to a previous time period. This is good because certain mannerisms and speech patterns won't be so jarring in the modern period, thereby pulling us out of our immersion into the scene (everyone, shift your gaze to last season's phoned-in Emma Roberts performance).
REASON #5 TO CHECK-OUT OF HOTEL - RYAN MURPHY
Ever since I was young, all I ever wanted to do was be an entertainer. I debated even putting this down as a reason not to watch AHS because, well, I have this paranoid feeling that Ryan Murphy is the leader of some gay Velvet Mafia and he will somehow keep me from ever seeing the light of success if I say one thing negative about his pieces of work publicly. And hell, once you put things on the Internet... it's there for life!
But screw any delusions I have about being an extra on Modern Family or a rape victim on Law & Order: SVU, this needs to be addressed.
Ryan Murphy is the M. Night Shyamalan of television. He consistently over-promises and under-delivers on his own shows and sometimes it seems he throws everything at the wall to see what sticks. As I mentioned previously, I wonder if he makes shit up as he goes along, as if he reads message boards and if anyone - for whatever reason - catches a whiff of what he might do as a surprise twist, he will purposely change things to catch people off-guard, even if it doesn't make sense or damages the actual good storytelling he's done leading up to that point.
His shows are rife with stunt casting and it sometimes comes across as if he owes someone a favor, so he throws them a bone by putting them in one of his shows at the expense of an actual regular or recurring cast member that the audience enjoys seeing more (see Glee). The interesting part about Murphy is that, like a child with a new toy, if he has a new television project, said project will take up his main focus while his interest in his previous project wanes. Sadly for AHS, Scream Queens is Murphy's new baby and there is a good chance Murphy's pattern will continue.
Tumblr and Oh No They Didn't have pointed out this behavior from Murphy with hilarious memes, so I know I am not alone in my feelings here, just take a look:
...But alas... despite all of that... there's still this...
REASON #5 TO CHECK-IN AT HOTEL - WE'RE MASOCHISTS...
Whether you have your doubts about Gaga's abilities (I don't) or doubts about Murphy's creative direction (I do), the fact is, most of us will be tuning into AHS this season because we're masochists who feel the need to punish ourselves. We know exactly how it'll turn out, it's going to start off strong and then, four episodes in, we're going to wonder what the hell is going on and seek comfort in each other by exchanging bewildered emojis online.
More importantly, we'll watch - or try to - till the bitter-end... because if Hotel does go south, there's nothing more entertaining than a good, old-fashioned trainwreck. Also, a good reason to watch the show is to root for the underdogs - the sublimely wonderful actors and actresses that make up the cast - and hope that they receive writing that is on-par with their God-given talents. I can't, shan't, and won't speak for any of you... but I watch shows such as this in hopes that I'm wrong and will be pleasantly surprised when they live up to - or exceed - the hype surrounding it.
For better or for worse, I'm Tommy Watanabe - professionally known as Tommy Purr - and I will be checking-in at AHS: Hotel on October 7th with my bags in tow to bring you exclusive reviews that you can find only here on Moviepilot.com. Sound off in the comments below, do you think Hotel will live up to the hype or do you think there will be plenty of vacancies?
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