Thursday, 22 December 2011

AMERICAN HORROR STORY, 1.12 – "Afterbirth"

Thursday, 22 December 2011

(Warning: major spoilers ahead)

I gave up reviewing American Horror Story a month after it started, but I still kept watching every week. I didn't have much to say about the show weekly, as it's very disorderly and driven almost entirely by clichés, but it became a fascinating train wreck. AHS is the kind of show I enjoy watching on a perverse level, even as  it's making me shake my head in disbelief and laugh in derision, because it had a blasé confidence about itself. After awhile, I grew to rather enjoy most episodes on a shallow level, and a few of the latter-season twists/reveals worked surprisingly well (especially the neat surprise that the Harmon's teenage daughter Violet had been dead weeks). I also really enjoyed Jessica Lange's unhinged performance as peculiar next-door neighbour Constance, and there were some effective scares on occasion. It's just a shame the general story was so chaotic and the central characters to impossible to care about.

Anyway, the finale aired this week, which I watched out of diligence. I was quite pleased by how things wrapped up, too, with the Harmon's all dead and finding a better existence in the afterlife than they ever did in life. The suggestion that they were somehow able to overcome the more sinister ghosts in the house, becoming the dominant force, was also very good, and now they'll act as guardians by preventing any family moving in who wants to have a child (which is exactly what the evil forces of the house latch onto). The final scene, set three years later, with Constance discovering that the Harmon's surviving son (her grandson, whom she's adopted to raise alone) has inherited her son Tate's psychosis also made me chuckle. It's the living you really have to worry about, right? When AHS was being knowingly silly and devious, I could enjoy it a whole lot more than when it was trying to be serious—which is generally whenever Dylan McDermott and Connie Britton were around trying in vain to earn an Emmy, or so it felt.

The best thing I've heard about AHS is showrunner Ryan Murphy's plans for the second season. One question most people asked early on is how the show could possibly tell a "haunted house" story over multiple seasons, but now we know they're avoiding that problem. AHS will actually tell a completely different story next year, with new characters, but it will still involve a "haunting" of some description. Maybe a haunted hotel will be the backdrop, who knows. But that certainly makes me much happier about sticking around for this show, as it can essentially renew itself every dozen episodes. If you don't like what one season did, maybe the next will be more to your taste. Unfortunately, Ryan Murphy's style of excessive nonsense, dumb soap opera plotting, and stealing ideas (even music) from better sources, isn't one that really appeals to me. I much preferred the episodes of AHS he didn't write, particularly those from James Wong (X Files, Millennium) and Tim Minear (Angel, Dollhouse), who had a much better grasp of what a good horror TV shows needs to work. Murphy just spurts out everything he half-remembers working in old movies and TV shows he's seen before, then hopes we'll think he's being post-modern and paying homage to some greats instead of ripping-off people.

So, there may still be problems ahead for AHS unless Ryan Murphy steps down as showrunner (in my eyes), although I'm glad the show hasn't made the grave mistake of trying to keep the Harmon's haunted house saga going indefinitely. It was already feeling stretched at a mere 12 episodes. Hopefully season 2 will be more original and cast lead actors who are a little more fun, as Denis O'Hare and Jessica Lange were this year.

Did you watch AHS this year? If so, what did you think? And what do you make of the unusual decision to give us a new story and characters every season, under the American Horror Story umbrella?

written by Jessica Sharzer / directed by Bradley Buecker / 21 December 2011 / FX