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Wednesday
Oct052011

'American Horror Story' Premiere is Fun as Hell

 

 

TV REVIEW: FX and Ryan Murphy's hyped-up horror show starts very strong, but does it justify your undying love?

By Kenny Herzog

First rule of creepy houses: Get out of the creepy house. (Credit: Robert Zuckerman)

Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, who together have created Glee and Nip/Tuck (Murphy was also behind teen-dramedy satire Popular), are sick puppies. They're also terrific at working inside established genre formulas and subverting them without disregarding the value of mainstream entertainment. It's an almost Spielberg-ian tightrope, and a challenging one to affect for TV. But in tonight's pilot, even if the series seems unlikely to sustain excellence, American Horror Story mostly gets it right with an equally committed passion to drama and macabre. 

As its title implies, the series' premise is the stuff of horror/psychological melodrama 101: Married couple struggling through a miscarriage, infidelity and the changing needs of a teenage daughter move cross country to escape their problems, purchase creepy old mansion, get a lukewarm greeting from various unseemly neighbors and begin wrestling with all manner of undead intrusions. Throughout its scary, stylish, sexy, eerie inaugural hour, American Horror Story lays bare its debt to Rosemary's Baby, Amityville Horror, Poltergeist (which Spielberg, of course, ostensibly ghost-directed for Tobe Hooper) and even Flowers in the Attic, among other classic-contemporary domestic frighteners. Except Murphy and Falchuk raise the stakes by introducing us to the Harmon family after the cracks in their idyl have already begun to show, like meat on a calf that's presently tender.

Within minutes, the Murphy-directed episode creates set pieces for hallucinations, mutilations, self-immolation, masturbation and what Jessica Lange's sinister-bitch-next-door Constance refers to as overall "bad juju." On one level, it's a bit of meta-commentary on haunted houses as metaphors for inter-familial crisis, but it's also viscerally shocking and effective, and the supporting cast---which includes Lange, True Blood/Good Wife's Denis O'Hare and former Six Feet Under matriarch Frances Conroy---is having a ton of fun on the edges of what, for their characters (and perhaps Murphy and Falchuk), is another humdrum nuclear-unit collapse.

But amid all the S&M ghost-rape (yep), excessive flashing of Dylan McDermott's butt (he plays wimpy, overcompensating psychologist/cheating husband Ben) and borderline tastelessly cliched forebodings from Constance's Down Syndrome-afflicted daughter Adelaide (whom Constance refers to openly as a "Mongoloid"), Murphy also imbues the Harmons' unraveling relationships with empathy and desperation. He pulls some especially terrific readings from Connie Britton as Vivien, a mother and wife struggling to reclaim her womanhood who viciously dresses Ben down for burying his grief in a "21-year-old's pussy" and simply cocks her head and drolls "My hero" in response to his indulgent roll call of sacrifices. And when Taissa Farmiga plays their high school-age daughter, Violet, with a bit of clumsy angst, her troubled paramour, Tate (Evan Peters, doing his best Kurt Cobain) instantly counteracts with the grave seriousness of a truly dysfunctional and dangerous kid. 

The next week's follow-up fails to move the story along at a similar orgiastic clip or summon the same essential claustrophobia on both the home- and- fright-front, although it does offer some transparency about its key ensemble weirdos that suggests a re-tightening of the screws. But the pilot is by far the most risky and entertaining hour of new TV in an otherwise safe and disappointing premiere season, and worth revisiting more than once for all the ghoulish little details and dramatic intensity. 

 

IN OTHER WORDS: Kudos to Murphy and Falchuk for coming off Glee's success with something so completely different and daring, yet totally vintage.

AMERICAN HORROR STORY PREMIERE RATING: 8.5/10

WHAT I'VE SEEN OF THE ENSUING SEASON RATING: 6/10

WHY WOULD YOU KEEP DVR'ING 2 BROKE GIRLS OVER THIS? RATING: 9.5/10

 

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    My spouse and i cannot thank you enough for the short article. Really thank you! Neat.

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