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'American Horror Story: Freak Show': How was it?

By Breeanna Hare, CNN
updated 9:54 PM EDT, Sun October 12, 2014
"American Horror Story: Freak Show" is the fourth season of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk's acclaimed anthology series.
  • "American Horror Story: Freak Show" premiered Wednesday
  • It's the fourth installment in the FX miniseries
  • Some viewers were sufficiently scared

(CNN) -- Just in time for Halloween, the new season of "American Horror Story" has fans checking for monsters -- actually, make that clowns -- under the bed.

Brad Falchuck and Ryan Murphy's acclaimed anthology series debuted its fourth season Wednesday night, this time taking viewers inside a carnival of "curiosities" stationed in Jupiter, Florida, in 1952.

"American Horror Story's" previous seasons have involved a haunted house, an asylum and a coven of witches.

Several of the FX series' usual players are back, including Jessica Lange as the show's ringleader; Evan Peters as Jimmy Darling, a.k.a. the housewife-pleasing "Lobster Boy"; Kathy Bates as Ethel, the "bearded lady"; Angela Bassett as the three-breasted Desiree Dupree; and Sarah Paulson as conjoined twins Bette and Dot -- and yes, Paulson plays both parts.

"Bringing her to walking, talking two-headed life is achievement enough. ... But the real special effect is Paulson, who invests the two sisters with such distinct personalities," said Time magazine's James Poniewozik in a review. "The way the two Paulsons carry themselves and react to each other -- even argue -- is a triumph of both editing and performance. She's her own best co-star, playing her own worst enemy."

In addition to these '50s-era sideshow stars, there's someone else lurking around town: John Carroll Lynch's incredibly creepy clown, Twisty, who happens to have a penchant for murder and kidnapping.

In other words, exactly what you want to see right before you turn out the lights. It was apparently a bit much for some.

But reaction from critics has been more mixed.

"'Freak Show' ... still has the high style we've grown to expect," said the New York Times' Mike Hale. "And it still has plenty of clever touches in word and picture ... But it's not particularly scary, and doesn't even feel that creepy or freakish, despite the sideshow setting and the obvious attempt to emulate one of the eeriest of American movies, Tod Browning's 'Freaks,' from 1932."

Entertainment Weekly agreed that "American Horror Story: Freak Show" owes much to that 1932 film but adds that "Murphy and Falchuk pay homage to that movie while skillfully mixing fresh aspects with the familiar. 'AHS' may no longer have the element of surprise on its side, but it remains, to quote the lyrics of a certain David Bowie tune performed by (Jessica) Lange, the freakiest show."

New York Magazine's Vulture cautioned that it's too early to tell, but at least "on the basis of its first two episodes," "American Horror Story: Freak Show" appears "to be the best (season) yet, or at the very least, the best directed."