American Horror Story Should Seek Professional Help
A quite good horror series from the creators of Glee? Believe it, girlfriend!
US Air date: 5 October 2011, FX
Many people don't know that Euclid had a hell of a temper. In fact, even the attendees of last year's hugely popular Geometric Hotties Convention, held in the basement of a foreclosed flat in Brighton, were unaware that his famous dictum, "The shortest distance between two points is a straight line," came during a drunken, coke-fuelled pique of anger after his pizza delivery boy was an hour late.
But thanks to quirks of fate, we now have that geometric law on our side and can apply it to all sorts of situations, like, say, the debut episode of FX's much-bally-hooed American Horror Story.
While I'm not running away from the series yet, it's clear that if show-runners/writers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk (famous for Glee) had spent a little time looking at their geometry texts before they shot, we'd all have been much better off.
Horror Story screamed onto US screens on 5 October, as the latest "Gonna-Shock-Television-With-Nakedness-And-Gore-And-Jump-Cuts-And-Non-Linear-Story-Telling" offering to come from people who seem to mistake melodrama for horror. Throughout the early acts, one is left wondering if Murphy and Falchuk were more interested in entertaining themselves than the viewers.
As characters meet, and do and say things that seem either forced for exposition or unnatural in their settings, the debut episode seems more like narrative masturbation (which, by the way, we get to see Dylan McDermott try while he flashes us his ripe, manly buttocks for the umpteenth time) than coherent and exciting plot.
What's it about? At the outset, we're loaded with enough back-story to fill three episodes of Lost. McDermott deftly plays Dr. Ben Harmon, who, with his wife Vivien and obnoxious too-cool-to-be-real daughter, Violet, moves from Boston to LA after Mrs Harmon has a miscarriage and he has a fling in their cozy New England home.
They move to a large Victorian house that's inexpensive for a reason – it's seen repeated acts of violence far worse than mismatched drapes.
We get all this shipped to us in a big, obvious bundle, while the family gets "settled" in their new surroundings, interacts with neighbors in ways normal people would not, and generally tosses melodrama on the screen.
Vivien meets Jessica Lange's haughty, cleptomaniacal Constance and doesn't kick her out of the house the way we all would. Ben takes on a client (he puts his office in his house) whom we can't be sure is real, but seems to be one heck of a weird young man, and an old housemaid shows up asking for work, saying that she's worked with all the previous owners.
Cue the two-note bass violin to warn us something might be wrong.
Sure, it's great when the housemaid manifests herself in Ben's mind as a searingly hot twenty-something in garters and split apron. Sure, it's kinda neat when Violet lures a school bully into the basement of the haunted house in order to scare her, and they both get more than they imagined, but there's something in the narrative approach of this show that had me pushing away for 99%.
Beyond the too-easy front-loading of back-story and clunky exposition, it's mostly the unnatural way in which people interact with each other that turns one off.
But as the debut episode unwinds, the canny viewer might second-guess early annoyances, asking if, perhaps, the unnatural interaction between the main characters and those they met wasn't part of the larger plan, wasn't a piece of mosaic in which normal people were being influenced by something in the house.
And when Jessica Lange delivers the final line during a strange chat with the housemaid, it becomes clear that early frustrations ought to be checked, and the series deserves a second look.
Many of the vexing aspects of American Horror Story stem from the fact that the producers have a plan: to make sure we slowly discover that the weird behavior IS being caused by the spectral powers of that house, that this is going to be a psychological horror tale as well as a ghost story and a tale of survival.
With recent news that super-scribe Tim Minear is signed on to write for this series, assume two things.
First, if Minear is involved, the show has to have depth. Second, expect some KILLER stories from him.
The set-up, as obvious as it is, given to us in such heavy loads of exposition, is there. The reveal at the end of the debut episode sets us on the right track.
Now it's up to the American Horror Story team to keep the audience involved for a couple more stories and to make us root for the protagonists in the face of this spectral possession.
You might want to give it a chance before you put your viewing time back on the market.
See the official FX trailer here:
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