Jessica, in “American Horror Story: Freak Show” you have a huggable, show-stopping role that positively screams out for Emmy affection. And Sarah, we may have steered you wrong in 2013 when we predicted you to win the Movie/Mini Supporting Actress Emmy for “AHS: Asylum” — Ellen Burstyn (“Political Animals“) came out of nowhere — but this year is a whole different story. Two stories, in fact.
In FX’s biggest, boldest “AHS” to date, Lange stars as the endearing Elsa Mars, a 1950s recruiter of “freaks” who’ve been tossed aside by society because of their physical deformities. One of the characters she saves in the premiere episode is Paulson’s Bette and Dot Tattler, dubbed a monster because of her two heads.
If Emmy voters only watch one episode of “Freak Show” before filling out their ballots next year, both actresses will benefit from their screen time and impact within the first 90 minutes. Writer/director Ryan Murphy spares no expense in tailoring the premiere around their characters, even giving Lange a memorable, cheer-inducing crescendo we wouldn’t dare spoil here. (Hint: it may even be better than “Asylum’s” “The Name Game” scene.)
Forget any early rumors you may have heard about Lange dropping down to the Supporting Actress race at the Emmys for “Freak Show,” a category she won for Season 1 in 2012. Lange is front and center in the premiere episode, more so than ever before. And for the first time in the “AHS” franchise, Lange is actually a heroic leading lady, a nice change of pace from her murderous, witchy roles in seasons past.
As Bette and Dot, Paulson proves the adage that two heads are better than one. That’s never been more true than at the Emmys, where multiple personalities and dual roles often reign supreme. That’s how “Bionic Woman” star Lindsay Wagner pulled off her upset victory for Best Drama Actress in 1977. She submitted an episode in which she played good and evil characters, which helped her overcome her show’s sci-fi stigma.
Multiple roles are an advantage at the Emmys because they allow actors to show off their range and versatility. In addition to Wagner, that strategy has worked for Sally Field, who won for playing a woman with multiple personalities in “Sybil,” and Erika Slezak, who set the record for most Best Actress wins at the Daytime Emmys (six) thanks in large part to storylines where she played split personalities on “One Life to Live.” More recently, Toni Collette won Best Comedy Actress for her role as a wife and mother battling her alters on “United States of Tara.”
But Lange and Paulson are hardly the only Emmy shoo-ins for “Freak Show.” Kathy Bates has a great shot of repeating this year’s shocking victory thanks to her dressed-down, Baltimore-accented bearded lady Ethel Darling. She plays the ex-wife of FX Emmy pioneer Michael Chiklis (“The Shield,” 2002) who is absent from the pilot but makes a strong showing in the second episode as Dell Toledo.
On the production side, “Freak Show” stands out for its intriguing Main Title Design, Makeup (John Carroll Lynch‘s Twist the Clown still has me shaking in my boots), Visual Effects (Paulson’s two heads look completely realistic), Production Design (the carnival sets are mesmorizing) and haunting Music and Sound.
While the Emmys are still months away, the Golden Globes are just around the corner. Vote below for the Globes’ new TV Movie/Limited Series race using our easy drag-and-drop menu. Will “American Horror Story: Freak Show” be nominated?