Stay on target A key tenet of geek culture is knowledge – we judge and are judged based on our encyclopedic knowledge of games, sci-fi, comics, anime, collectibles and more. But it’s impossible for one human being to know everything, no matter how many chips you get put in your brain. That’s where we come in. With this series of “Geeksplainers,” we’ll give you everything you need to know to get up to speed on some of the most complicated, intense subjects in the pop culture universe. No longer will you have to fake it in conversations until you have time to run to the bathroom and engage in a 45 minute Wikipedia session. Let us be your guide, now and forever.This installment: Ryan Murphy is about to perform the fusion dance on the American Horror Story universe. Here’s what you need to know.What Is American Horror Story?Premiering in 2011, American Horror Story is an anthology horror series on FX helmed by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. Unlike most other horror television shows, each season takes place in a different location with a different theme (but often carrying over cast members, who will play different roles). The show quickly earned a fan following for being both balls-out crazy and legitimately frightening with the first season, which featured a suburban family moving into a Los Angeles house haunted by the ghosts of everyone who has died on the premises. The first episode garnered the highest ratings the network had ever seen for a premiere, and critical response was favorable, so Murphy went full steam ahead with other seasons set in an insane asylum, a Florida freakshow and a Los Angeles hotel, among others.Who Is Ryan Murphy?Writer/producer/director Ryan Murphy’s first series was 1999’s comedy Popular, but it was 2003’s Nip/Tuck that really introduced viewers to his Grand Guignol sensibilities and love of heated melodrama. That FX show about a pair of plastic surgeons combined gory special effects, rampant sex, and overheated family dynamics to create one of the decade’s ultimate guilty pleasures. He followed that up with Fox’s runaway hit Glee, which seemed like a total 180 as a musical comedy set in a high school. Since then, he’s launched numerous other successful shows including Pose and Scream Queens, with American Horror Story the longest-running.Why Is The Show So Popular?Because it’s crazy. That’s a sort of reductionist way to put it, but Murphy’s made his bones on shows that push the envelope, and American Horror Story is no exception. Twists and turns come hot and heavy throughout the series, and it revels in unpredictability. That said, the core mythology of Murphy’s horror universe is solid and consistent: if you die somewhere, your spirit haunts that place. Witchcraft is real and an ultra-powerful Supreme has dominion over the world’s witches. And if somebody dies you can sew their body together Frankenstein-style and it works.Secondly, the cast is fantastic. Murphy has a reputation for putting together ensembles that he can lean on to execute his wild visions, and American Horror Story boasts drop-dead performances from Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson, Emma Roberts, Evan Peters and more. The show also loves to cast actors that you’re not expecting in horror drama like Billy Eichner and… Lady Gaga.That’s not to say American Horror Story doesn’t have problems. It’s become sort of a truism that seasons will start off very strong and then slowly lose momentum as they go and Murphy introduces plots and characters that he can’t keep track of. The show is a mess, but it’s a consistently entertaining mess.What Seasons Are Worth Watching?If you’re trying to get up to speed before diving into Season 8, there are really only two seasons you need to watch (and we’ll summarize them for you below if you don’t have time). That’s the first and the third, Murder House and Coven. But for our money, the absolute best the show has ever been is with seasons 2 and 7 – Asylum and CultAsylum taps into Murphy’s Catholic upbringing with a story of the inmates and staff of Briarcliff Manor, a mental institution in Massachusetts. The hospital’s head psychiatrist is also the serial killer known as Bloody Face, and when newspaper reporter Lana Winters is forcibly committed there, it opens a whole can of worms. The show’s dual timelines – in both the present and 1964 – let Murphy play with retro styling and delivered one of the series’ most indelible moments with Jessica Lange’s lobotomized nun playing the Name Game with her fellow patients.Cult took the show’s meta-commentary leanings and focused them on the political insanity of the United States. After the 2016 election, a mid-sized Michigan town is split down the middle between Trump voters and the resistance. It’s the only season of the show so far to not feature any supernatural elements, which in some way makes it scarier; Cult delves instead into the darkness inside normal people and what they’ll do in pursuit of power.Far and away the worst of the seasons was the fourth, Freak Show. Although it started strong with a killer clown and an irresistible swampland Florida setting, it sank into a morass of unlikeable characters, confusing plot developments, and corny flashbacks. You can also safely skip season six, the quasi-reality show Roanoke, and the visually stylish but ultimately sort of empty season five Hotel.What Is The Apocalypse?The eighth season – which just started – is titled American Horror Story: Apocalypse and marks the first time that characters from previous seasons will return. What’s interesting about that is certain actors played different people on those two seasons. Case in point: Taissa Farmiga played the daughter of the Murder House family in Season 1, but looks to be returning as her trainee witch character from Season 3 instead. It’s a bit of a head-scratcher, and we certainly wouldn’t put it past the show to make her play both – possibly at the same time. Here’s the trailer:Plenty of unanswered questions there. The producers copyrighted the name “American Horror Story: Radioactive” a little while ago, so we wouldn’t be surprised to see the specter of nuclear armageddon hang heavy over the season. One thing that we do know is that, despite the subtitle, this isn’t the end for the American Horror Story franchise. FX has already renewed the series for two additional seasons.What Do I Need To Know From Seasons 1 And 3?Okay, here we go. Buckle up, buttercup.Season 1, Murder House, introduced a number of the tropes the series would play with in the future. The Harmon family moves into a Victorian mansion in Los Angeles where the prior owners, a gay couple, had a murder/suicide. They quickly learn that the house comes with a lot of baggage, as not only the dead couple but a host of other spirits are haunting the place. The season’s primary antagonist was nicknamed the Rubber Man – wrapped in a featureless black fetish outfit with no skin exposed, he is revealed to be Tate Langdon, a ghost seeking to obtain a baby for unknown purposes. He impregnates Viven Harmon and she gives birth to twins at the end of the series – one alive, one stillborn – before dying herself. Ben and Vivien Harmon are confirmed back for this season.Season 3, Coven, moved the action to New Orleans. The few remaining descendants of the witches of Salem are gathered at Miss Robichaux’s Academy under the tutelage of Cordelia Foxx, who trains them in the use of their powers while clashing with her controlling mother Fiona Goode, the coven’s “Supreme.” Over the course of thirteen episodes, all sorts of craziness breaks loose, with characters dying and being resurrected left and right before Cordelia goes on national TV and reveals the existence of witches in the world. Many of the coven members are also set to show up in season 8.Apocalypse looks like the season takes place after some unspecified quasi-Ragnarok event (people seem to disappear without warning like the Rapture or the end of Infinity War), and survivors congregate in Outpost 3 under the rule of Ms. Wilhemina Venable, played by Sarah Paulson. Speculation currently hints that the baby sired by Tate Langdon is all grown up into the actual Antichrist and he’ll be the motivating force behind the show’s events. But will the witches be working to stop the end of the world or hasten it forward? That’s a question even your trusty Geeksplainer can’t answer yet, so we’ll be watching along with you.Read up on all our reviews from last season, AHS: Cult. Find the perfect gift for the ultimate AHS fan. And for good measure see our post of the best demons names for your baby. Follow all AHS updates here. Top Movie and TV Trailers You Might Have Missed This WeekAmerican Horror Story Takes Us Back to the Days of Witches and Warlocks Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey.