It turns out to be incredibly fitting that Kim Kardashian plays a publicist in the new season of American Horror Story.
Depending on whether or not you subscribe to the philosophy that any press is good press, American Horror Story has had a very bad (or maybe a very good) week. As if it weren’t enough that FX’s hit anthology series—which premiered its 12th installment, AHS: Delicate, Sept. 20—was accused of crossing the WGA’s picket line in a race to finish production over the summer, the show became embroiled in another scandal this week. Though fans were excited for series regular Emma Roberts to return in a lead role, that anticipation soured when Angelica Ross, who starred in Season 9, accused Roberts of transphobic behavior on set and criticized series creator Ryan Murphy for making false promises to her about involving her in the casting of an all-Black AHS, before ghosting and allegedly costing her other career opportunities.
Though Roberts and Ross have now seemingly taken steps to squash their beef—Ross says that Roberts called her to apologize—the controversy leaves AHS: Delicate in a, well… delicate position. But then again, it hasn’t just been a bad week for American Horror Story, it’s been a bad few years. The anthology hasn’t turned out a single consistently watchable season since its eighth offering, American Horror Story: Apocalypse. All of that was poised to be set aside for AHS: Delicate, with Murphy stepping down to let Halley Feiffer take over as showrunner, giving Season 12—which revolves around a troubled road to pregnancy for Roberts’ character, an actress named Anne Victoria Alcott—a much-needed woman’s touch.
But what likely excited fans the most was the stunt casting of Kim Kardashian in a pivotal role. Season 12’s marketing revolved almost entirely around Kardashian, who plays Hollywood mega-publicist Siobhan Corbyn (to the delight of me and all of the Irish people around the world, surely). And for good reason: Kardashian is far and away the best part of AHS: Delicate. And nothing will prepare you for the shockingly vulgar first line of dialogue she says in the series: “Tell [them] to suck my clit!”
Though Roberts is bringing her oh-so-reliable screen presence back to the franchise, alongside new and returning guest stars like Cara Delevingne and Zachary Quinto (who show up in future episodes), it’s Kardashian who, based on Tuesday night’s premiere, is going to make this season truly worth watching. Her affected line readings and familiar face might make it hard to take the show completely seriously, but that’s exactly what AHS needs: a season that has given up on trying to be anything more than good, campy fun.
Season 12’s premiere opens with—what else?—a quote from the book of Genesis. “Unto the woman, he said, ‘I will multiply thy pain and thy conception; in pain thou shalt bring forth children.’” This quote is plopped into the premiere presumably to give the season an air of both self-awareness and sagacity, neither of which it really needs when Kardashian and Roberts are fighting tooth and manicured nail to see which one of them can chew more scenery. But those moments don’t come until the middle of the episode; first, we have to watch Roberts’ character, an It Girl actress named Anna, chase an intruder out of her home, after waking up with their arm around her (seemingly pregnant) stomach.
It’s a genuinely creepy bit to begin with, but it’s the premiere’s only real fright. There are, however, plenty of jump scares left in store, not limited to an Andy Cohen sighting in a fake Watch What Happens Live episode, where Anna promotes her latest film while shouting out Tom Sandoval. AHS simply does not need these kinds of ploys to maintain relevance when they’ve got Kardashian on the call sheet.
Anna is hellbent on having a baby with her boyfriend, Dexter (Matt Czuchry), and is willing to juggle her busy schedule of late-night talk shows and swanky gallery openings with trips to a specialized fertility clinic to do so. After several failed rounds of IVF, this mysterious clinic is Anna’s last hope, something she’s only willing to admit to Siobhan, whom she met in an IVF support group years prior. This gives Kardashian a reason to say plenty of delicious lines like, “Meeting you at that IVF support group was the only god-forsaken thing I got out of that process,” and, “Any word from Doctor Baby Maker?” Though, these bits of dialogue are nothing compared to those first words out of Kardashian’s mouth when we’re introduced to her character, halfway through the episode.
Here’s the context for that: When Anna walks into Siobhan’s office for a meeting, she interrupts a phone call in progress, where Siobhan is fighting for one of her clients. “Tell The Daniels to suck my clit!” Siobhan screams into her phone, referring to the Oscar-winning filmmakers of this year’s Best Picture winner, Everything Everywhere All At Once. “She’s not missing a day of work for a fucking commercial shoot.” It’s the kind of line that makes all of those years of trying and failing to finish various seasons of American Horror Story worth it; when this show gets it right, it gets it so very right.
Not only does Kardashian deliver this line with all the expertise of someone who likely heard her own mother say the same thing on business calls over the years, but she actually nails the right balance between goofiness and sincerity. If there’s anyone who can convincingly play a high-powered publicist, it’s one of the most famous and media-trained women in the world. But just because the role of Siobhan seems tailored for her doesn’t necessarily mean that Kardashian hit all of the right beats and intonations to make this a real performance, instead of a stilted showcase from a woman looking like a deer in headlights. But she’s come a long way from the days of guest appearances on 90210 and Drop Dead Diva; here, Kardashian has veritable star quality and a confidence that has not been seen in any of her cameos in scripted television or films. Hell, she seems more natural in AHS: Delicate than she does in a good chunk of The Kardashians.
It’s a good thing that this season has Kardashian, because without her to lend oomph and absurdity, Delicate would be another AHS season that loses its way because of its pretentious ambitions.. Roberts stumbles through the premiere, seeming a bit clueless as to why she was asked to come back without getting the chance to lean into her signature bitchiness. Her Anna has the potential to score some frightening moments—and, granted, this is only the first episode, and Roberts has already proven herself a damn good horror actress. But right now, her baby-obsessed ingenue isn’t clicking.
For the first time ever, AHS: Delicate is trying its hand at an adaptation. This season is based on Danielle Valentine’s novel Delicate Condition, which could be the reason for the season’s slow start: It’s building to the meat of the story, much like a novel does. But there’s very little to keep viewers hooked until then other than a potentially promising Roberts and the wildly watchable Kardashian. Even the series’ typically consistent visuals seem like shoddy ripoffs of April’s Dead Ringers limited series, with doctors in red scrubs and techno-futuristic medical offices. It’s apparent that Delicate would like to be a Rosemary’s Baby for the age of modern fertility breakthroughs, but it has yet to pull anything original out of that conceit.
But there is some hope yet. While AHS: Delicate didn’t immediately become must-see viewing after this premiere, it at least is using its unexpected star as a vehicle for more effective social commentary. When Anna tells Siobhan that she wants to go to the cops after her home invasion, Siobhan tells her that they won’t listen to her. “They think if a woman’s in the public eye, she’s looking to be harassed,” Siobhan says. “It’s sick.” That is precisely the kind of not-so-veiled, meta wink that we’re coming to this season of AHS for. Let’s just hope Kardashian’s character lives long enough to give us an endless supply of these perfect soundbites.
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