Friday, October 7, 2011

TV Review: "American Horror Story"

Let's take a little break from zombies tonight, shall we?

"American Horror Story," one of the season's most anticipated new shows, comes from "Glee" and "Nip/Tuck" creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk and it's unlike anything they've done (or you've seen) on television.

Psychiatrist Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott), his wife Vivien (Connie Britton) and their daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga) move from Boston to Los Angeles in the hope of putting a difficult past behind them and starting over. Vivien is still mourning the loss of her still-born child while trying to forgive Ben for an affair he had with one of his students. Violet is dealing with a painful adolescence as an outsider. They purchase a gorgeous Victorian manse that comes with a greatly reduced price, thanks to its rather sketchy past - the Realtor, "in full disclosure," admits that the last owners died in a murder/suicide in the basement. What she doesn't tell them about are the vandalous young ginger twins who also died in the basement way back in 1978, as we learned in the pilot's prologue. 

Vivien discovers a strange mural hidden under the wallpaper in the study and while working to uncover it, is surprised by Adelaide (Jamie Brewer), the Down's Syndrome afflicted daughter of their next-door neighbor. Adelaide tells her "You're gonna die in this house" (the same warning a much younger version gave the gingers). Adelaide's mother Constance (Jessica Lange) soon appears, making apologies and making herself at home, while stealing a piece of Vivien's china. Constance, a failed actress, gifts Vivien with a bundle of sage to burn in order to clear out the spirits. Meanwhile, Ben has begun seeing his first patient, the potentially violent Tate (Evan Peters), who instantly takes a liking to Violet after he catches her cutting herself in the bathroom (yes, there's all sorts of emotional dysfunction afoot in the Harmon household). It's not long before the housekeeper, Moira (Frances Conroy) turns up, talking her way into getting hired by Vivien after explaining she knows the house better than anyone. But Moira isn't all that she seems; while she's a cloudy-eyed frump when viewed by Vivien and Violet, she is a seductive young temptress when Ben looks at her. I could go on for another two posts about everything that happened in the premiere, but it's probably best if you discover it for yourself.

The pilot episode of "American Horror Story" sets up an intriguing puzzle that dares the viewer to solve it. McDermott ("The Practice") spent a good third of the hour naked (no complaints here) and does of a fine job as the psychiatrist who could do well by a taste of his own medicine. And Britton ("Friday Night Lights") is terrific (as always) as a woman trying to put her pain behind her to move on. Lange, in her first regular TV series, doesn't chew the scenery so much as she devours it and it's a pure delight watching her play a faded Southern Belle with some very sharp teeth. Constance is the kind of woman who'll compliment your furniture while complaining about how "the mongoloid" (a very un-PC  term I haven't heard since the 70's) ruined her life. One can imagine smiling and saying "Thank you" after she says "Go f*ck yourself."

The pilot, directed by Murphy, is chock full of jump-cuts; weird camera angles; atmospheric hallways; kinky sex; half-glimpsed monsters and more profanity than I have ever heard on a basic cable channel. And I loved every freaking minute of it. I am completely under its spell and must find out what secrets the house holds and how the whole thing is going to play out, especially after the episode's ending where Moira catches Constance stealing a pair of Vivien's diamond earrings. After a brief discussion about morality and sin, Constance warns Moira: "Don't make me kill you again."

Admittedly, "AHS" is not for everyone, and I completely understand some critics who have said it's the kind of thing you will either love or hate, with no middle ground. As I said earlier, I loved it and can't wait to see more. Weird; creepy; off-putting; suspenseful and totally off the wall fun, this is truly cutting edge television.  **** (Four Out of Four Stars). "American Horror Story" airs Wednesdays at 10:00 PM on FX and is rated TV-MA for language, violence and sexual situations.

More, anon.


Michael Offutt said...

I dvr'd it and I think I'm gonna go watch it now that you've reminded me to do so.

Mrs. Gosling said...

glad you think what i think! potential, potential. i can't wait to see end when i fix my dvr. harumph. but i mean ryan murphy and his nip/tuck awesomeness. who could expect less? (now, glee, mind you...not a fan so much anymore...)