Ryan Murphy and FX are back with another big buzz show, but many will find that while ‘American Horror Story‘ is pretty ambitious, throwing every horror concept against the wall to see what sticks can make for some confusion.
That’s not to say that “American Horror Story” isn’t interesting visually. The biggest problem is that there’s so much thrown at the viewer in the premiere episode, many viewers may feel overwhelmed with information that they don’t come back for the next episode. Having checked out the first two episodes, it could be worth it to hang in since the next one slows down in pace somewhat. Murphy and Falchuk seem to be throwing so many horror movie and haunted house cliches out mixed with family dysfunction, the freshness may wear out its welcome pretty quickly.
It’s obvious Murphy and Falchuk are big horror fans, and you’ll find plenty of nods to classics like ‘Carrie’, ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, ‘Amityville Horror’ (the original not the awful remake) and even ‘Heathers’, but many will roll their eyes at some of the logic defying incidents; mainly why in the hell would a husband and wife stay in a house like this putting their daughter’s life in danger?
Right off the bat in the premiere episode, we see the house, which is one of the major characters in ‘American Horror Story’ back in 1978, and it feels a lot like the opening for John Carpenter’s ‘Halloween’ (original, not the awful remake). This house is menacing and evil, but naturally someone else will wind up moving in. After the opening credit montage, we’re introduced to the Harmon’s, a family that’s got lots of issues, and thankfully, having a stellar cast like Connie Britton helps keep the cliched family from feeling so cliched.
The Harmon’s back story is that Vivien (Britton) delivered a stillborn child some months back and we see as she comes home to find her husband Ben (Dylan McDermott) in bed with a 21 year old student. We immediately feel for her since he’s done this in their bed, but doing the manly thing, Ben feels that the family should move for a ‘fresh start’. I have a feeling that more than a few women will roll their eyes that Vivien goes along with this since McDermott has always had that look of a man that would wind up giving you crabs after promising you something memorable. But Vivien goes along with the idea and so the Harmon family plus daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga), a teen with the usual attitude who likes to cut herself.
One of the bright spots in the show is having Jessica Lange cast as the next door neighbor who seems to like making Ipecac laced cupcakes for no known reason. These wind up being delivered to the Harmon’s even though they were meant for her Down’s Syndrome daughter that she refers to as the ‘mongoloid’ as she constantly bully’s her. We see traces of Piper Laurie from Carrie if she had played it a little bit slutty. For some reason her daughter Adelaide can’t stay away from the Harmon’s house, so they’re always getting inside which was more freaky to me than the evil wallpaper and other ‘scary’ things.
The pilot episode goes by extremely fast, and it definitely feels like it could’ve been a 90 minute or two-hour episode. Having to be introduced to the overwhelming number of characters and situations makes you feel more like a viewer than getting sucked into the story. Luckily, the second episode does slow down and gives you more time to digest what’s going on and get to know the characters better. Some of the scenes feel a little gratuitous like see Dylan McDermott masturbating from behind and then break down and cry. I’m all for nudity, but only if it’s part of the storyline. This scene felt more like the usual bare female breast reveal in every b-horror movie that now generates laughs more than anything.
Whereas the pilot feels very ‘Carrie’ and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, the second one feels like a mix of ‘The Shining’ and ‘Amityville Horror’. I have a feeling that a few more episodes in, the show will stop relying so heavily on these classic horror movie cliches as it falls into its own stride. McDermott does his best with the role of Ben, but Connie Britton stands out as elevating the material she’s given while everyone around her resorts to pure high camp with the over the top storylines.
Overall, ‘American Horror Story’ is worth checking out, but for all the buzz it’s generating, many people will be scratching their heads wondering what the fuss was all about. I love over the top, but this is one that feels like it’s trying too hard to be shocking and ground breaking in an attempt to generate big buzz. The latex clad figure that has been used prominently in the marketing for the show is barely used in either episode, and that seems to sum up a lot of Ryan Murphy’s latest endeavor…a lot of promise but…
American Horror Story Rating: B-
American Horror Story is far from perfect with an inconsistent tone, very cliched teens (do that many teens actually listen to Morrissey like we did?) and the pacing will be off putting to many viewers. In today’s attention span of a gnat world, trying to cram so much information into one episode can wind up feeling like overload and most of us just want to escape into a good tv show.