9 Ryan Murphy shows to binge-watch
For someone who is fairly widely acknowledged to be the current king of TV series, and with a multi-million-dollar deal with Netflix which was inked in 2019 (as in $300 million), there are surprisingly few of Ryan Murphy’s shows available for streaming.
As a writer, director and producer, Murphy’s body of work is diverse. It began with the plastic surgery series Nip/Tuck, moved on to high school musicals with Glee, has dwelt extensively in the realm of horror stories, mixed in a bit of true crime along with straight-up procedurals (granted, with some weird twists), and some comedy and satire thrown in for good measure. And definitely don’t forget the glorious Ball culture of the 1980s.
For his trouble, Murphy has six Prime Time Emmy awards from 28 nominations, a Tony from two nominations, and three Grammy nominations. He has multiple upcoming projects in development, although his two most recent – Season 2 of The Politician, and Hollywood – have not elicited as much fawning adoration as his previous work. But all is not lost: “American Horror Story, American Crime Story and Pose have new seasons in the works,” says NME.
Here are eight Ryan Murphy series to stream on Showmax and Netflix right now.
American Horror Story S8 (Showmax)
As an anthology series with story arcs and characters that cross over, and technically each can stand on its own, there will always be discussion about whether the seasons should be watched in numerical order, and to me that makes the most sense.
However, some of the time periods link in later series, each full season is a different story and therefore starting at the beginning of any season is fine, according to a Quora user. “If watched in order of time periods, Season 4 first then Season 2, then 1, 3, 5, 6, 7.”
Witches and vampires, freaks and psychos, murderers and mayhem – it’s all here. Season 9, 1984, is an homage to slasher movies and I wondered when the anthology had become a joke…or was it always one? Lady Gaga won a Golden Globe for her role in Hotel, though, so there’s that.
Glee S1-6 (Netflix)
Bit of a throwback here, for Murphy’s second hit series that ran for six seasons from 2009 till 2015. The main focus is on the high school “glee club”, which competes on the choir show circuit, as well as the issues faced by the teens and their teachers, from relationships to teamwork. While considered an indulgent pleasure, the show has seen some real-life tragedy. Actor Corey Monteith died of a drug overdose in 2013, and after a tribute episode was aired, Murphy announced Glee would end after its sixth season.
(As if the cast hasn’t had its fair share of tragedy, Naya Rivera, who played cheerleader Santana Lopez, went missing earlier this month after taking a boat trip with her four-year-old son. Her body was found in the lake a few days later.)
The Politician S1-2 (Netflix)
Season 1 did well, Season 2 not so much. The series follows the political aspirations of Payton Hobart (Ben Platt), from running for student body president all the way to president of the United States (Kanye, look out), season by season.
Sharp-witted viewers will recognise fictionalised real-life situations. The cast includes Gwyneth Paltrow and, in Season 2, Bette Midler.
American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson and The Assassination of Gianni Versace (Netflix)
There are two seasons of this anthology series. The first covered the trial of OJ Simpson, a saga that gripped the world as it was televised live. Murphy darling Sarah Paulson plays District Attorney Marcia Clark and Friends’ David Schwimmer plays Robert Kardashian. Other heavyweights in the cast are John Travolta, Courtney B Vance, and Sterling K Brown.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace is the second season, with Darren Criss as the obsessed murderer, joined in the cast by Ricky Martin and Penelope Cruz as Donatella Versace.
Between them, the series has 120 award nominations and 97 wins.
Pose S1-2 (Netflix)
This one is my personal favourite; I came to it late and binged both seasons in a matter of days. It’s set in the ball culture in mid-80s New York City, a world where drag queens, transsexuals, transgenders, transvestites and all kinds of gay vamp and camp it up in fiercely contested costumed “walks”.
The focus is on the African-American and Latino LGBTQ community, and revolves around houses and house mothers who take in the strays mainstream society has rejected, lifting them up and encouraging them to be the best they can. Pose hits every feel and emotion, from tears to laughter and everything in between. The Season 1 finale leaves you wondering if a second season was justified. Spoiler: it was. I can’t wait for Season 3.
Reviews have been mixed, but perhaps that’s because the wider audience hasn’t fully grasped what Murphy has done here; gender, race and sexuality that don’t conform to Tinseltown’s rigid standards, for decades and still ongoing, have been rearranged to present an alternative “what if” narrative.
Darren Criss, who won a Golden Globe for American Crime Story, stars. He was also in Glee. It’s not unusual to see Murphy casting the same actors, in different series as well as in anthologies like American Horror Story.
9-1-1: Lone Star S1 (S2 is on DStv online)
Rob Lowe drives this high-paced spin-off to the hit first-responder drama series. A New York cop relocates to Texas with his son, where he works to save people’s lives. Liv Tyler also stars.
Lowe praises “the magic of the Ryan Murphy/Tim Minear brand”, which, he says, sets the tone for the show. “It’s very unique. We can be playing a legitimate life-and-death scene, and then turn on a dime and I’m obsessing with how much Minoxidil it’s going to take to keep my hair going, ‘cause it’s my ‘signature look’,” he grins. “And somehow this world supports that – the humour, the sort of absurdity, and the real-life stakes. A lot of shows do either / or, but very few do both.”
Ratched S1 (Netflix)
Ryan Murphy’s name is all over this. Although his involvement is less than in some other series and projects attached to him – he developed the concept by Evan Romansky, executive produced, and directed the pilot – his trademark garish violence and highly stylised sets and costumes are firmly in place.
Ratched is the origin story of Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s nest – the 1962 book by Ken Kesey, and the 1975 film starring Jack Nicholson. In this series, Murphy’s darling Sarah Paulson takes on the titular role. She’s not very nice either, but she is not devoid of a conscience and frequently makes decisions that for the benefit of others, if sometimes misguided.
It’s best not to take this show too seriously, or get upset by how patients with mental illnesses are portrayed, or rant about it having little to do with Kesey’s character. The best thing about Ratched is the carefully considered colour palette of turquoise and golden hues that is used throughout, from physical settings to costumes.
With a cast of openly gay actors, including Jim Parsons and Matt Bomer, this adaptation of the stage play is set in New York City in 1968, and revolves around seven gay friends, whose lives, feelings and secrets and shaken up when an unexpected guest turns up at a birthday party.
CNN.com says that the film “provides a stellar showcase for its actors, especially Jim Parsons as the central provocateur”, and the New York Times calls it “zippy and soulful in equal measure”.