The Circus Gives Me The Willies

The next season of American Horror Story premieres tomorrow, and it’s set at a 1950s freak show. Now, that show has some great writing and stellar acting, but freak show? Like a circus, but worse? It doesn’t even take a  good show to make that scary – you could take a straight-up camcorder to Barnum and Bailey’s, record everything as it happens, and I’d still get the creeps.

Like every normal and decent person, the circus gives me the willies. How could it not?

I don’t remember much that happened at the circus the first time I went, but I remember the feeling. Like the first time you try hard liquor or watch a Tarantino movie (just me?), it was a mix of disappointment, confusion, and more than a little judgment: “Am I supposed to like this? Does anyone?”

The main problem with the circus, of course, is clowns. I discovered this early on. During my early childhood my sister had a clown doll, even though she seems better than the kind of person who would own a clown doll. When the neighborhood boys used it as a prop in a movie about evil toys that come to life, and they broke it by punching it repeatedly in its stupid, leering plastic face, I didn’t lose any sleep over it. Or rather I DID lose sleep, but only because if any toy would rise from the garbage dump, find its way back to my house, and go Chuckie on my entire family as we slept, it would have been that damn clown doll.

“I hate you and don’t want you to be happy” – anyone who would give this to a child

Well into my teen years, my oldest brother would walk past my open bedroom door, and if I was reading quietly or doing my homework, he would fix his face into a wide, open-grinned clown’s smile, go dead behind the eyes, and sing that horrible circus song all slow and drawn-out, like a haunted record. You know the one, it’s like the theme song to nightmares: doo-doo-doodle-oodle ooo-doo-doo.

As an 8-year-old who was equally into comedy and yesteryear – I blame Little Women and ’90s Comedy Central standup – I remember pondering what people used to think was funny in olden times. I hardcore puzzled over it, until deciding in a moment of clarity that it was probably, like, people falling down and stuff. One day, I even asked my mother what people thought was funny before t.v. “I don’t know, probably clowns, right?,” she answered.

I wasn’t sure whether to stop trusting my own mother, people from the 1800s, or both. Because creepiness aside, clowns aren’t even funny. Sure, their faces are plastered into motionless, permanent happiness and surprise – but so are the Real Housewives, and nobody thinks they’re funny. At least not intentionally. And they can blow up balloons? So can the pimply teen who works at your nearest Party City, but the teen will not haunt your nightmares besides. I can’t even think of what else clowns do. Pile too many people into one car? Wear weird clothing that I don’t quite understand? Display boundless energy? Groups of teen girls do all of those things – and while we’re at it, I’m actually terrified of groups of teen girls, too.

What’s worse is, clowns aren’t just at the circus. Did you know that some mega-churches have “clown ministries?” (Mega churches are like regular churches, but with big projection screens, way more merch, and sometimes they sell smoothies: so basically, the circus of churches). If you ever want to teach your child that religion is a joke that isn’t funny, drop them off at clown ministry while you guzzle lattes at the megachurch cafe. If my parents had taken me to clown ministry, I would have bowed out of organized religion before I hit second grade.


Clowns aren’t the only bad thing about the circus. The overall ambiance is just scuzzy. Whether you go to a circus in a large arena like I did, or in a tent like cute people from olden times, it somehow manages to seem dirty and – even though the whole point of the circus is that it rolls from town to town – like it’s been there forever. The circus looks like it would smell like baseball field dust-dirt, ground-up peanut shells, and cigarette butts.

And that’s before you even into the (non-clown) entertainment. Most circuses are lorded over by a megalomaniac svengali in striped pants, a top hat, and sequins – the ringmaster. This a-hole tells you where to look, what to do, and is second only to clowns in creepyness. The second Google suggestion for ringmaster is “evil.” The first is ICP, and as fascinated as I am by the informercials for the Gathering of the Juggalos, that doesn’t exactly say “family fun.” If the theme song to nightmares is that circus music box song, and the villain is clowns, then the narrator is the ringmaster, like an evil Kevin Arnold.

I’m not even going to get into it, but the animals at the circus aren’t doing awesome, either. No beautiful, majestic living thing should be forced to live and travel with clowns. That’s just cruel.

What’s left. Acrobats? Acrobats are okay, I guess. They’re talented and they work hard, and that’s great. But at the same time I’m pretty bendy but you don’t see me wearing head-to-toe Lycra and gallivanting with clowns and ringmasters. Tightrope acts and trapeze artists are cool, I suppose, but at the end of the day they are athletic, coordinated adults hanging out on playground equipment and I don’t need to pay $25 to see that. And that’s before buying a glow necklace, popcorn, circus peanuts … oh yeah, circus peanuts. Blech.

Of course, modern circuses don’t even have the most terrifying part of the spectacle: the freak show. This scene, permanently burned into my brain, suggests that they were horrifying:

I will be tuning into AHS tomorrow, and I expect that it will have my pants scared off. Not because the show always is right on the line of “can’t stop watching” and “can’t bear to look at this” – though it is – but because even without two-headed girls and bearded ladies, the circus gives me the willies.


Shows You Should Be Watching If You Aren’t Already: Last-Minute Binge Watching Edition

The long, lazy days of summer are winding down, and we couldn’t be more thrilled about it – because it means TV season is upon us! However, there’s enough summer left before premiere week to squeeze in a couple kayaking trips, or finally go on that weekend-long hike, or throw a big outdoor barbeque for all of your friends. Or – better idea! – you can binge watch all of these great shows and be caught up by the time the next season begins. With 1-3 seasons under their belt, these are shows you should be watching – and with a proper binge watching technique, we think they’re shows you can be watching. Let’s make those last weeks of summer count, kids.

 Traci’s Suggestions

For beginner binge-watchers looking for a laughcry: About a Boy

Seasons to catch up on: 1

Next season begins: Tuesday, October 14th on NBC

Why you should be watching:

This NBC sitcom was a mid-season replacement earlier this year (and we also talked about it then too) and only has 13 episodes that are 22 minutes long! About a Boy is based off the 2002 movie starring Hugh Grant, which was based on the 1998 novel by Nick Hornby, but the pilot is the only episode that is like the movie. After that, it’s about the boy, brilliantly played by Benjamin Stockham,, his mom, brilliantly played by Minnie Driver, and the bachelor neighbor who turns out to be the best father figure in the boy’s life, brilliantly played by David Walton. If you like your comedies with a side of crying and a handful of heart, this show’s for you. This show’s also for you if you are a fan of Parenthood or Friday Night Lights, as it has the same tone as those shows, except with a few more jokes. Also it’s by creator/executive producer Jason Katims, who helmed said shows. He really can do nothing wrong.

For the rom-com loving semi-professional TV watchers: The Mindy Project

Seasons to catch up on: 2

Next season begins: Tuesday, September 16th on FOX

Why you should be watching:

Just like a fine wine or Mindy’s alma mater, The Office, this show only gets better with time. With every episode, the writers and actors found their true voice, and by the end of season two, it became not only one of my favorite shows, but it was hard to believe that such a strong series was only in its second season. As the creator, executive producer and star of the show, there’s no doubt that Mindy Kaling’s own voice is all over the series, which is a good thing. To be clear, Mindy doesn’t play herself, she plays a woman named Mindy who is a gynecologist with her own practice. I can’t think of a female in television who is like her – there’s Tina Fey, but she and Mindy have such different comedic styles which are both great in their own ways. While Tina used 30 Rock as an offbeat showcase for her humor, Mindy takes the nuances of her friendships and romances and amplifies them to create a fairly accurate portrait of life as a working single woman in 2014. And for gals like me, I greatly appreciate that there is a minority woman representin’ in a sea of (for lack of a better term) white men in comedy. There are 46 half hour (22 minute) episodes to catch up on before September 16th, but I promise they will go faster than you can say Beyonce Pad Thai (you’ll eventually get that reference).

For the dramatically inclined hardcore TV addicts: Scandal

Seasons to catch up on: 3

Next season begins: Thursday, September 25th on ABC

Why you should be watching:

My friends know I’m insane about television, so when they ask me for suggestions as for what to watch next, I always say Scandal. Always. This is mainly for selfish reasons so I can have other people to freak out with when shit goes down on the show. But really, the show itself is really good you guys. If for some reason you don’t know what Scandal’s about (where have you been), the basic plot centers around Olivia Pope (played by the gorgeous and talented Kerry Washington), who is a Washington D.C. fixer. She makes bad situations better, or even makes them go away completely. Oh, small side note is that she’s having an affair with the President. Who’s married. With kids. AND YOU STILL FIND YOURSELF ROOTING FOR THE PEOPLE HAVING THE AFFAIR. But that’s one of the best aspects of the show – the line of right and wrong is always blurred and you don’t know whose side to be on.

Plus the show moves QUICKLY. There are 47 hour-long episodes but they go by super fast (if you binge-watched Grey’s Anatomy like me, I’m convinced Shonda Rhimes puts crack in her eps to make you want to watch one right after the other). Not only time wise, but plot wise too – I have never seen so many things happen in an hour than in Scandal. People die, people lie, people have family members you never knew existed – it’s a lot to take in, but it’s so worth it. Also, you want to catch up (all three seasons are on Netflix instant!) so you can watch live come September. Another great part about watching the show live is live tweeting. Most of the cast tweets live from both coasts every Thursday, which is takes the viewing experience to a whole new level. And if you’re concerned about watching 47 episodes in a month – just know that I watched seasons 1 and 2 of Scandal in 8 days. What’s even more impressive is that that’s not even my best record for binge-watching a series. Side note: I just remembered there’s a site where you can calculate how many hours of your life you’ve spent watching TV, and it’s scary. Unrelatedly, I’m gonna go play outside for the next year.

Molly’s Suggestions

For displaced comedy nerds: Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Seasons to catch up on: 1

Next season begins: Sunday, September 28 on FOX

Why you should be watching:

The Golden Globes got this one right – Brooklyn Nine-Nine is an ensemble workplace comedy with clever writing and a hilarious cast. Despite TV’s love affair with police procedurals and sitcoms about coworkers, it’s also the only combination of the two currently on the small screen. With comedy vets  Andy Samberg, Chelsea Peretti and Joe Lo Truglio, cop show vet Andre Braugher, talented (relative) newcomers Stephanie Beatriz and Melissa Fumero, and a former football player just because (Terry Crews), this is a cast with a rapport like people you’d find at an actual workplace. Except, you know, funnier.

If you are a sitcom lover still reeling over the loss of The Office and 30 Rock, and bracing for the end of Parks And Recreation, and kind of confused about what’s going on with Community, this show will fill the hole in your heart and also the one in your TV schedule.

For insomniacs and horror fans who aren’t afraid of the dark: American Horror Story

 Seasons to catch up on: 3 – or zero. We’ll explain.

Next season begins: Wednesday, October 8th on FX

Why you should be watching:

Look. I’m not a horror movie person, really, but this is just good television. Let’s talk about the cast: Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Sarah Paulson, Zachary Quinto, Angela Bassett, Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton, Gabourey Sidibe – although not all of them appear in all seasons, some of the best actors of today are on AHS. The whole thing is headed up by Ryan Murphy after he jumped ship from Glee (can you blame him?). And the format – AHS functions like a reperatory company, with actors taking different roles in the different seasons. That means each season tells an entirely different story. They can all be watched independently of each other, so you only have to catch up on as much as you want to.

The seasons are themed. In the past we’ve had Murder House (ghosts!), Asylum (psychological torture!), and Coven (witches!), but the upcoming season will be scariest of all: Freak Show (clowns!). Such is my fear of the circus that I was terrified of my sister’s clown doll for my whole childhood, and one of my brothers would swing open my bedroom door and smile a giant, frozen clown smile while singing that awful circus calliope song. This is going to be full-on spooky.

For escapists with time to spare: Once Upon A Time

Seasons to catch up on: 3

Next season begins: Sunday, September 28 on ABC

Why you should be watching:

I think we all have those people who we trust implicitly when it comes to TV recommendations. Traci is one of mine, by the way, so you should probably watch what she tells you to watch because she always nails it. Another is my sister-in-law. A couple years ago she told me about Once Upon A Time, and I was like “girl … fairy tales? Not sure.”

I started watching a few weeks ago and I am sold. Once Upon A Time is set in Storybrooke, Maine, a town populated by fairy tale characters. The evil queen levied a curse (do you levy curses or did law school just ruin me as a person?) and everybody forgot about their fairy tale past and lived as normal people – until Snow White’s daughter shows up on her 28th birthday and sets the wheels a-turning. Each episode contains a plot line in the present day as the townspeople try to figure out what’s up, and a fairy tale backstory of one of the characters in their former life.

Remember in the TGIF days when each of the ABC shows had an episode set at Disney every year? Once Upon A Time is like the ultimate ABC-Disney tie-in. I mean, don’t worry, Anna and Elsa have already been cast. But it’s not all fluff. Once Upon A Time is the brainchild of the creators of Lost, so there’s a lot of crazy theories you can keep track of, plus a bunch of Lost references.

I just finished season one and I’m not sure if I’ll get through two more in the next month. It’s certainly doable. But if you don’t mind spoiling yourself, you could probably watch season one, select random episodes of the other season to watch, and use Wikipedia for the rest.