Ryan Murphy’s entire career can be summed up in three words: “doing too much.” Nip/Tuck had a plotline about a woman’s travails with a dog and a jar of peanut butter. Glee did a school-shooting episode. Murphy had Matt Bomer dancing around a dark apartment to “Hotline Bling” two months after the song peaked and Gabourey Sidibe making love to a minotaur in American Horror Story. He cast Ross Geller to play Robert Kardashian. Murphy’s work has always been poppy, pulpy, and purposely excessive. But he’s finding a new level right now, and it’s dizzying.
Let me try to recap Ryan Murphy’s week so far. Tuesday, Murphy confirmed the absolutely ridiculous news that Season 4 of American Crime Story will take on the Bill Clinton–Monica Lewinsky scandal (Season 2 is about Hurricane Katrina, because what could go wrong there?). A day later Murphy cast Edgar Ramirez and Darren Criss in Season 3 of American Crime Story, which will focus on the murder of Gianni Versace. Later that night he went on Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live — the PERFECT venue to out-messy yourself — and declared that Season 7 of American Horror Story — the show about witches and circuses and acrobatic sex, NOT the one he has about actual crimes — would be about the 2016 election. Oh, also, Murphy’s Feud, a campier-than-camp take on the not-at-all niche beef between Old Hollywood’s Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, is coming out in two and a half weeks. Are you tired? I’m tired.
Why are we talking about the fourth season of a show that is a year away from premiering its second season? Why are we already revisiting the election? I know a lot of people are peering over their copies of The New York Times going, “The world is, like, so scary right now,” but those declarations are not an enjoinment to replay the events of the past year in a season of television, least of all as an actual horror show. Sarah Paulson can do anything; I’m not sure we need her to play Donald Trump right now.
But you can’t criticize Murphy for shooting his shots. This is a guy whose shows took home nine Emmys last year. The People v. O.J. Simpson was widely regarded as one of the best series of 2016, if not the best. You do what you want when you poppin’, and Ryan Murphy will never shy away from a chance to do the most.
How you think all of this will play out depends on how familiar you are with Murphy’s output. The pages of Variety feel like a later season of a Ryan Murphy show right now, all questionable choices and three story lines too many. Those who stuck it out with Nip/Tuck or Glee understand what happens when this guy is given a longer leash. (Bad things, that’s what happens.) The People v. O.J. suggested that Murphy’s interests were maturing, and Feud is at least promising a smart look at workplace sexism. But the mentions of Monica Lewinsky and the 2016 election are confirmation that Murphy is still most infatuated with oversaturated, broad, tabloid-y melodrama. There’s still an open peanut butter jar by the goddamn bed.