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American Horror Story, Homeland Get a 2nd Season. Do They Have One in Them?

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How many years can Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) stay possibly crazy?

In News That’s Old But I’ve Been Too Busy To Blog About It News: FX’s American Horror Story and Showtime’s Homeland each got an order for a second season—no surprise for either, given their respective ratings success. (AHS draws more viewers, but at Showtime the absolute number doesn’t need to be as high, since those viewers are paying customers.) This is theoretically good news to me, because Homeland has only been getting better—Sunday’s episode was maybe the strongest yet, and an especially good showcase for Mandy Patinkin—and AHS has been, well, rewardingly insane, with last week’s installment intriguingly fleshing out the mythology of the house and the shades who haunt it.

But both shows raise the same question for me, in different ways: can they really sustain themselves for more than one season?

AHS has the feel of a single, creepy miniseries. When I imagine it continuing for another year, it first presents the problems that emerge with any Ryan Murphy show (Nip/Tuck, Glee): it’s like this big rocket that burns pure liquid crazy, and at some point the whole thing just becomes overheated and explodes. More practically, there’s only so much that can go on around the Harmons before they die or move.

(As I’ve said before, the “Why don’t they move?” problem doesn’t bother me, now, because of the human capacity for denial: real people do not believe they are characters in horror shows, and so it takes a lot to persuade them they live in a haunted house. But at some point, things are going to have to happen that the Harmons can’t explain rationally, or our patience will wear out.)

As for Homeland, I could watch a show built around its characters endlessly. In particular, I love the dynamic between Carrie and Saul, who are meant to work together for the same reason everyone else has problems working with them: they can each be an incredible pain in the ass, in spite or because of their dedication. Terrorism aside, Homeland is one of the best workplace dramas I’ve seen in a while. (The last comparable one, maybe, being Rubicon, which was also partly about people damaged by the demanding job they do—or who are so well suited for that job because they are damaged.) And the two damaged terrorist-hunters are chasing an equally damaged quarry in Damian Lewis’ Brody.

But Homeland’s premise itself would seem to have a sell-by date. Brody is sort of like AHS’s house: at some point we must find out that he’s real or that he’s not. It doesn’t necessarily need to be at the end of the first season—I am willing to grant this show more time that The Killing—but if it’s the same cat-and-mouse game forever, it becomes Reverse Dexter.

Ironically, though I think AHS is the lesser show, I can more easily imagine it sustaining for future seasons—if it were, for instance, to jettison its cast every season and start again anthology-style with a new premise.* (It would also benefit from the fact that viewers are more willing to suspend disbelief for a horror show.) Homeland, on the other hand, turns on the question: Is Brody a terrorist, or is Carrie crazy? How long can that fruitfully remain the question? I could see a twist that switches up the premise for a season 2—say, Brody turns out not to have been turned, and helps Carrie and Saul pursue the actual plotters. But the show’s appeal depends partly on not being 24, which is to say, not repeating its premise endlessly.

* Update: I should be clear, by the way, that this is not my own genius idea; I’ve heard it discussed from the get-go as a possibility for future seasons of the series. But FX’s renewal announcement was silent on the subject, so I don’t want to make any assumptions.

Of course, there’s a reason I write about these shows and not for them: I would hope their writers have more imagination than I do and have already plotted entirely sturdy plans for future seasons. And I’m a believer in not refusing to watch a show simply because it might go bad someday—I’ll watch a show until I stop liking it, and then I can watch something else.

But are there any other fans of AHS or Homeland who wonder if these shows are meant for more than one season? And how are you liking these series four episodes into their runs,* anyway?

*Update: Five for Homeland—sorry, lost count!