Producer Ryan Murphy has premiered three series in roughly a month, so a degree of overlap is perhaps understandable. Even so, the new season of his long-running FX franchise, this one dubbed “American Horror Story: NYC,” feels like a companion in its central themes to “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” which premiered last month on Netflix.
A key element of the Dahmer miniseries, based on the real-life serial killer who preyed on gay men in the 1980s and particularly people of color, was the extent to which homophobia contributed to an indifference that helped him avoid legal consequences, before his arrest in 1991.
The latest “American Horror Story” is set in a different place, but an overlapping time, beginning in 1981 – just as the AIDS epidemic began, and before the disease had acquired that name – and focusing on a serial killer murdering gay men in New York City.
The mysterious killer remains unidentified through the first two episodes, but suspicion surrounds a leather-clad figure known only as Big Daddy. The key issue throughout the opening two hours, however, centers on city officials and the police department having little interest in solving the crimes, as even the unseen killer tells a reporter (Joe Mantello) who he kidnaps. Before letting him go, the killer says of the NYPD, “They’ll do nothing. They don’t want to.”
The question of LGBTQ lives being seen as expendable by public officials during those years obviously parallels the AIDS crisis, which is a concurrent part of the story. This being “American Horror Story,” though, the emphasis skews toward the serial killing, dropping hints and clues about who might ultimately be responsible.
The episodes also convey the toll on those living in the closet during this era, specifically focusing on a New York detective (Russell Tovey) who endures casual gay slurs from his unaware coworkers and boss.
“American Horror Story” has hardly been known for its restraint, which made the relative lack of bloody excess in these episodes notable, with less emphasis on the horror than the serial-killer aspect. That’s not to say there weren’t grisly images, only that the initial threat doesn’t appear rooted in the supernatural, aliens or some of the other outlandish wrinkles witnessed over the 10 previous seasons.
It’s worth noting the Dahmer limited series has been a major hit, according to Netflix’s data, but has also triggered renewed discussion about the true-crime genre, and the extent to which it potentially romanticizes its subjects with appealing actors like Evan Peters or Zac Efron portraying them. Murphy’s other new true-crime Netflix show, “The Watcher,” premiered October 13.
FX will air back-to-back “American Horror Story” episodes over the next four weeks (with subsequent availability on Hulu), by which time the monster’s identity should be revealed. For better or worse, though, the resemblance to Murphy’s other “Monster” is already quite clear.