After three seasons of strangeness in settings ranging from a haunting house to a mental asylum, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk's anthology series American Horror Story kicked off its latest season - subtitled Freak Show - this week, with a new setting in Jupiter, Florida in 1952 and a new story about a traveling freak show.
While some of Elsa Mars' (Jessica Lange) sideshow attractions are simply actors like Evan Peters and Kathy Bates wearing prosthetics (or, in Bates' case, facial hair), American Horrror Story: Freak Show's principal cast also includes some actors with truly extraordinary bodies. Jyoti Amge, the smallest woman in the world, plays Elsa's affectionately-nicknamed assistant Ma Petite; English musician and actor Mat Fraser - who was born with phocomelia of both arms - plays Paul the Illustrated Seal; double amputee Rose Siggins plays a character called Legless Suzi; and 6'8" model Erika Ervin stars as her alter ego Amazon Eve.
Whether it was curiosity about seeing a show with these unusual stars or the effectiveness of American Horror Story's enticing teasers, the premiere of American Horror Story: Freak Show broke the show's record for viewership, as Deadline reports that 6.127 million viewers tuned in to watch the first episode of the series, "Monsters Among Us", earning it a 3.1 rating among adults 18-49. The numbers demonstrate a 10% increase in viewers from the 5.54 million who tuned in for the season premiere of American Horror Story: Coven last year, which at the time set a series-high record for American Horror Story's most-watched broadcast.
American Horror Story: Freak Show got off to a violent start in the premiere as conjoined twins Bette and Dot Tattler found themselves in hot water after the suspicious death of their mother; the malevolent Twisty the Clown got stuck into some murders and kidnappings; and "lobster boy" Jimmy Darling was pushed to the edge by Jupiter's attempts to bully his family of freaks.
Whether this blend of death, intrigue and show business will be enough to draw back a good portion of the premiere's viewers for the next episode remains to be seen. One benefit of American Horror Story's structure is that you don't need to have seen the previous seasons in order to understand what's going on in Freak Show. Having done so might help to prepare you for Murphy and Falchuk's particular brand of weirdness, though.
American Horror Story: Freak Show continues next Wednesday with ‘Massacres and Matinees’ @10pm ET on FX.