Couch Grouch

American Horror Story gets weirder and more wonderful, Jack Bauer still hot in new 24

American Horror Story: Coven is fun, campy and offensive, topped with outrageous set-ups

Jessica Lange heads a training school for witches in American Horror Story: Coven, while Kiefer Sutherland (above) returns as super agent Jack Bauer in 24: Live Another Day. -- PHOTO: AXN
Jessica Lange heads a training school for witches in American Horror Story: Coven, while Kiefer Sutherland (above) returns as super agent Jack Bauer in 24: Live Another Day. -- PHOTO: AXN
Jessica Lange (above, left) heads a training school for witches in American Horror Story: Coven, while Kiefer Sutherland returns as super agent Jack Bauer in 24: Live Another Day. -- PHOTO: FX

First, it was about a haunted house, then a madman's asylum, and now, a whole bunch of witches.

The funny thing about the American Horror Story series is that the same actresses - Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson, Taissa Farmiga, Lily Rabe and Frances Conroy - play different roles throughout the series and seem to want to outdo not just one another, but also themselves.

The funnier thing may be that series creators, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, also made Glee. (Then again, this is not too surprising when you consider that all these over-the-top horror stories are actually one naughty, loony wink away from breaking out into a song and dance.)

The funniest thing, though, has to be the outrageous set-ups here of this nuttier-and-nuttier female-empowering series, anchored by the spectacular Lange who stumbles about looking like the Incredible Booze Kook, and propelled by the belief that graphic horror and offbeat scares can be so unsettling you really just have to laugh it off.

To me, American Horror Story: Coven is the most fun, campy and knowingly offensive in the series so far - it throws faux historical, pop cultural, mish-mash ingredients, cringing racial stereotypes and infernal southern twangs into its boiling cauldron.

But amid the hysteria and hysterics in this concoction, there are very horrible and bloody moments, mostly via Kathy Bates' very evil and paradoxically homely character, Delphine LaLaurie, an omnipotent 19th-century New Orleans slave-torturer who is resurrected for her immortal power and subsequently works in the witches' mansion as a lowly maid.

This woman is a racist-sadist so vile she kills her slaves for their life- rejuvenating body parts and even grafts the head of a bull onto one of them to turn the poor sap into a minotaur of sicko-psycho sexual proportions.

At one point, Bates' own head is chopped off and placed in front of a TV screen to force her to watch the slave- emancipation series Roots as divine punishment.

And so the formidable Bates meets her hellish match in Gabourey Sidibe's (Precious) Queenie, a black trainee witch in a headstrong clique of young witches joining the coven of the "Supreme" one, Fiona Goode (Lange), who is so supremely unhinged as mother hen and master manipulator.

Lange is the funniest sexy lady to mouth the most vulgar and wicked lines with all the casualness of a Mariah Carey-class diva.

"You've got a mean streak wider than your backside," she mocks Bates.

Besides Queenie, the newcomers entering her training school-coven include Zoe the sane one (Farmiga), Madison the slutty one (Emma Roberts), and Nan the freaky one who can hear the thoughts of others (Jamie Brewer).

One of them, much to chief drama mama Goode's jealous, homicidal displeasure, is destined to lead as the new "Supreme", even as their coven revives a battle with a vengeful zombie-conjuring voodoo high priestess, Marie Laveau (the funny-fearsome Angela Bassett).

I marvel at the way everything plus the kitchen sink is dumped into this tale that is basically about women doing what they apparently like best when the mood strikes at Revenge Hour - fight like chickens in a coop.

What I really dig about Coven is the way it embraces the outcasts of society. Commendably, it empowers older women, fat girls, minorities, weird chicks and even insanely loyal mute butlers.

Resurrection of another kind takes place in 24: Live Another Day, where Kiefer Sutherland returns as fugitive counter-terrorist agent Jack Bauer.

Actually, it is more like Run Another Day because the guy just keeps on running, fleeing and chasing to stop yet another major terrorist attack on America. As is usual in the 24 universe, nobody believes him, not even the President of the United States (returning actor William Devane) whose butt he had saved before.

The show has been revived for one more 12-episode fling due to popular demand, like Arrested Development's one-season return.

24 fans will know this - in the old days, Jack Bauer kicked hell like an international bad-events organiser, raising the ire of global terrorists, foreign governments, the CIA, Pentagon, the White House which betrays him, and everybody except maybe the milkman.

It was very slick, exciting and heroically gratifying but basically, we got to a point where we did not care anymore even if the world was going to blow up.

Four years later, the producers think we need Mr Bauer again in the age of Edward Snowden, unseen subterfuge and unmanned warfare.

But do we?

Well, yes, because we want Bauer - or rather, Sutherland - back because nobody, except possibly Kevin Bacon, can protray a misunderstood good guy-bad a** like he can.

But the plot has to be better than this.

I can take the Euro-transplanted look of swarthy thugs and pasty blokes (it is set in London) and even the borderline- believable tech-whiz Euro-Arab terrorists who teeter on stereotypes.

I especially like the use of American drones as the new weapon of mass destruction as the baddies hijack them to target the US president on a visit to London.

But my main beef is that this 24 return is set in Britain, a bit player in the global arena of power. I mean, China or Russia or even those crazies in the jungle in Nigeria would terrify us before it even started.

In one farcical scene, an American president is intimidated by a hostile British parliament headed by very large, very jolly Brit comedian Stephen Fry as the prime minister.

Super agent Bauer is still captivating, but he is stuck in a Monty Python version of 24.

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