Seasons available: 1-4
Stars: Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton, Jessica Lange, Taissa Farmiga, Evan Peters, Denis O'Hare, Frances Conroy
For the first half of its debut season, American Horror Story was the funhouse ride that never stopped. Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, tapping into their Nip/Tuck craziness and not their Glees oftness, dared viewers to stick around, throwing so many out-of-nowhere images, batshit plot turns (S&M ghosts, mutants in the attic, horny spirits in skimpy maid get-ups), and unsubtle horror movie references at the screen that the FX series felt more like a guilty pleasure than a genuine investment.
As the season progressed, however, American Horror Story faintly pumped its brake enough to nurture the central family story, giving fans plenty of reasons to actually care for the Harmons (Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton, Taissa Farmiga). It was a tightrope act that very few thought could be pulled off, but, somehow, Murphy and Falchuk turned a kitchen sink genre conceit into a legitimate small-screen drama. Of course, it didn't hurt that they had Jessica Lange on their team; playing the Harmons' conniving, dominating, and downright sinister neighbor, the Oscar winner gave 2011's most devilishly addictive performance across all mediums.