Although FX's "American Horror Story" and PBS's "Downton Abbey" probably do not court the same audience, the two hit shows have similar qualities beyond the stunning properties that also serve as pivotal characters. The TV shows take place nearly a century apart, but both explore modern concerns through the dichotomy of two classes of people. The ensemble cast, fast pace and online presence keep viewers engaged and eagerly awaiting the next episode.
The dual, sometimes intersecting existences of the ghosts and residents of Murder House are similar to the lives of the staff and residents of Downton Abbey. Supernatural law restricts the undead, which often lurk in the basement, while English society and tradition bind the servants, who spend much of their time toiling downstairs. These unseen forces hold great power and the ability to influence the household. Some members of the stifled group are benevolent. Others, like Hayden and Ethel the housemaid, are self-indulgent and feel entitled to a higher status.
"American Horror Story" and "Downton Abbey" both open with an amazing flurry of characters. Although somewhat overwhelming at first, the large casts drive the plots at a quick pace. With the exception of one or two episodes of "American Horror Story," each hour flies by, resolving past questions while creating new ones. The variety makes it easy to find a favorite character or plot.
FX taunts and tantalizes fans with two websites full of clues about the house's off-screen past and hints about its mysterious occupants. PBS provides a dossier on each character and the actors who portray them. There is also a likeability meter for viewers to rank the characters after each episode. Naturally, Vera Bates and Thomas are in a tie for most loathsome.
Horrors of Reality
Both shows mirror today's society and universal concerns. Despite its supernatural premise, the true horrors in "American Horror Story" include realistic problems such as mental illness, financial ruin, loss and infidelity. The characters of "Downton Abbey" face homophobia, war and a clash of the classes amid quickly evolving societal norms.
The multifaceted world of "American Horror Story" appeals to a diverse group of viewers. Those who enjoy the suspense and humor with a swirl of soap opera drama should tune in to "Downton Abbey" for a similar experience. After all, it is a long wait for the Season 2 premiere of "American Horror Story."
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