|written by Ryan Murphy & Brad Falchuk / directed by Ryan Murphy|
starring Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott, Evan Peters, Taissa Farmiga,
Denis O'Hare, Jessie Lange, Alexa Breckenridge & Frances Conroy
There isn't much subtlety or restraint with AHS, as you'd perhaps expect from the minds behind Nip/Tuck and Glee. It wears its intentions on its sleeve, and doesn't have the patience to establish and develop a deep sense of mood. Crazy things happen and strange people appear at the rate of a theme park Ghost Train. The basic idea appears to be that the house preys on the inner demons and difficult pasts of its unfortunate inhabitants, to eventually push them into insanity and murder. Ben was recently unfaithful, so Moira appears to be a sexy young woman who wears maid fetishwear and tries to seduce him behind his wife's back; Vivien recently had a miscarriage and the episode ends with her announcing another pregnancy (the father likely to be the "ghost-gimp" she mistook as her husband one night); daughter Vivien's a victim of bullying at school and finds help from the disturbed Tate, who teaches her chief tormenter a macabre lesson she'll never forget. Maybe Constance's dream of becoming a Hollywood starlet was also ruined because of the house in some way?
The problem facing AHS is that it doesn't appear to be much more than surface-level shocks and peculiar imagery, as Murphy and Falchuk merrily throw ideas at the screen and hope most will stick to, alchemically, make this show scary and compelling. Unfortunately, while it's certainly attention-grabbing at this nascent stage, how many episodes will pass before audiences have acclimated to this mix-tape of horror tropes and start craving a proper storyline and characters you can get involved with? Not long, I'll wager. In the acting stakes, McDermott's a little blank and forgettable as Ben; Britton's character is written very thin, but the actress is the only one trying to spin gold from straw; Farmiga (kid sister of movie star Vera Farmiga) shows personality and promise; old hands Lange and Conroy are suitably uncomforting; Breckrenridge looks delectable in her saucy getup; and O'Hare already looks poised to steal the show as he did in True Blood.
Overall, I had fun with the sheer preposterousness of this show's style, a few of its ideas worked, but my abiding thought is that AHS will have to prove it has some substance very quickly, and that some of its creative decisions are very questionable (after the good work dealing with Down's Syndrome on Glee, it's all undone in very ugly fashion here). Ultimately then, AHS isn't much more than a cornucopia of steals from Psycho, Rosemary's Baby, The Tenant, Poltergeist, The Shining and The Amityville Horror. It should be given a chance to grow—and hopefully mature into something that feels more unique, without the childish desire to fling weirdness in your face every few minutes. At worst, it may attain so-bad-it's-good status.
- This show debuted strong for FX, with 3.2 million viewers, equaling Ryan Murphy's Nip/Tuck premiere. This is below the premiere of Justifed (4.2m) and The Shield (4.8m), although a bigger total of 5m people saw American Horror Story when you include its repeat showing.