Sunday, June 17, 2012

ATVC 2012: American Horror Story

So I wrote a little something. I watch a lot of TV, and while I don't individually review each episode I watch, I like to pull together some thoughts every June about the previous TV season. There are some incredible shows out there, as well as some awkwardly 'blah' ones. There are others that are hideously awful, too. Oh, and Glee. That's in a whole different league. Spoilers abound, so beware.

American Horror Story
12 episodes, FX (October - December 2011)

Whatever your thoughts on Ryan Murphy, it's safe to say that the television landscape would be a hell of a lot less interesting if he weren't around. American Horror Story was one of the most attention-grabbing new series this season, an elaborately-structured and provocative genre show about all kinds of horror -- both natural and supernatural. It's a show where you can see the awkwardly intimate breakdown of a marriage and the bitterness and turmoil that infidelity can expose, as well as a show that features Connie Britton eating placentas and Frances Conroy's porny doppelganger chewing off Armenian peen. Naturally, 'schizophrenic' is something of an understatement.

American Horror Story pulled from every corner of the Murphy wheelhouse, as well as from the legions of Dario Argento/Roman Polanski films that were presumably required viewing for every member of the show's writing team. The season sometimes became a little too generic, in particular whenever the writers got bogged down in Vivien's demonic pregnancy, but the polarizing absurdity at least stayed true to the tone they seemed to reaching for... and it consistently got everybody talking.

Murphy, like Alan Ball before him, is also wonderful with his casts, at least with the characters that fold in and out of the narrative (true to form, his regular players are always the least interesting). The real star, of course, was the grand-dame of crazy that was next door neighbor Constance, a gleefully self-conscious caricature who came across like every Joan Crawford/Bette Davis catfight story tossed into a Frankenstein lab and implanted in Jessica Lange. But, like his previous show Nip/Tuck, the recurring guest stars quickly became stand-outs, too. I loved Sarah Paulson's hack medium, Kate Mara's unhinged woman scorned, as well as the Breakfast Club of the Damned that haunted the boy that slaughtered them. Zachary Quinto's former resident initially arrived like a Samantha Jones-style pun machine, failing to go five seconds without unloading another euphemism, but he quickly became a vivid depiction of the season's exploration into marital dysfunction and mid-life dissatisfaction.

It was that type of balancing act, in which the emotional themes were able to shine through while the show continued to shock elsewhere, that kept me loyal to the series. Was there any more haunting scene this past season than the one involving Violet running back and forth through the house, literally unable to leave, and rapidly discovering that she's actually long dead? When the dueling themes of emotional vulnerability and scary spookiness were successfully blended together, it really was magic.

With a ballsy premise for season two already announced, American Horror Story seems like it could be that rare Ryan Murphy show to not burn out fast. Maybe this tonally wackadoo auteur has finally realized where his flaws lie? Or maybe it's just the way this show rolls? Either way, I'm coming back for more horror. A-

Favorite Episode For really pushing the tragic shading to the inhabitants of Murder House and resolving with that gorgeous shot of the ghosts returning to their own personal hell at the end of the scariest night of the year, Halloween Part 2 (1.5).


  1. Fascinating looking show. I downloaded the pilot so I'll watch it soon and review it. The concept is just very intriguing and I have a feeling I am going to LOVE it.

  2. I imagine you'd like it, it's very True Blood-ish in sensibility, but a little less wacky in a comedic sense. It's very bananas, though. So be aware of that.