Thursday, December 8, 2011

'American Horror Story' is a muddled mess

(Note: There will be spoilers mentioned in this article. You have been warned. So, no whining.)
I wanted to like this show.
And, and as an only child, usually I get what I want.
So when the show first started out I was intrigued -- not only by its premise but its casting.
Yes, Dylan McDermott is one step up from a soap actor, but the rest of the cast – especially Connie Britton, Jessica Lange, Dennis O’Hare, Francis Conroy and Zachary Quinto – is ridiculously good.
As a horror fanatic, the idea of a genuine haunted house show on a network (FX) that wouldn’t shy away from gore and coarse language – well let’s just say I was really excited that there would be something new this season that I would fall in love with.
There’s just one problem, I haven’t fallen in love. I’ve flirted with lust, but it was a brief two-episode affair.
I don’t hate ‘American Horror Story,’ mind you. In fact, there are parts of the show that I think are brilliantly done. I just don’t love it – which is a disappointment to me.
Let’s start with the good.
Jessica Lange is a scenery chewing behemoth that props up the entire show on her delicate little shoulders. She’s hilarious one second, full of vitriol the second and almost heartbreaking a mere beat later.
Zachary Quinto – the former Sylar on NBC’s Heroes and the current Spock in the ‘Star Trek’ reboot for the great unwashed – is ubergood as the consistently kvetching “decorating” half of the show’s haunting gay couple. He manages to be handsome, rigid and whiny all in the same breath.
The real revelation, though, is 24-year-old Evan Peters as the conflicted Tate Langdon. Peters' previous work that I’ve seen consisted of two solid, if unspectacular, guest shots on ‘Criminal Minds’ and ‘One Tree Hill.’
On ‘American Horror Story,’ though, Peters has found his niche. He has somehow made a creepy rubber-wearing rapist who shot up his school sympathetic and engaging. That’s no small feat.
As far as storylines go, ‘American Horror Story’ is 50-50. Meaning I think 50 percent of them are brilliant and 50 percent of them – well – aren’t.
The titular murder house at the center of the story is filled with former denizens haunting its walls. While Tate, Moira and Chad are welcome ghosts, a lot of the other “guests” are just starting to clutter up stuff.
For example, Hayden has become a clichéd harpy that is trying to control her new environment when it clearly should be controlling her. The fact that Ben is supposed to be an educated man who is not questioning the fact that she’s wandering around the house AFTER he buried her in the back yard on top of another body but underneath a new gazebo is insulting to viewers.
Former homeowner Charles Montgomery – played by the fantastic Matt Ross from HBO’s ‘Big Love’ – was interesting at first before he became a big old caricature of a mad scientist with his baby sewing and body dismembering skills. I half expect him to grow a mustache just so he can twirl it.
While this week’s reveal that teenage daughter Violet had actually been dead for several episodes – only she didn’t know it – was emotionally fraught it was also pretty obvious. It was a nice touch, though – and a lot more welcome than scenes of a mutated boy being locked in the attic and chained to the floor before being smothered. Still, though, the revelation lacked something tangible – and I think that’s where the true problems with ‘American Horror Story’ come from.
Executive Producer Ryan Murphy is responsible for three big name series, including “American Horror Story.” The other two are ‘Glee’ and ‘Nip/Tuck.’ Now anyone familiar with Murphy’s work realizes that he’s one of those people who has a lot of great ideas – unfortunately, though, he’s never met an idea that he didn’t want to use, even if it sucks.
Murphy’s biggest crime is that he throws everything up on the wall to see what will stick. For a short amount of time, this makes him look brilliant. Then the things he’s throw up on the wall start to rot and fall away (much like Violet’s body in the Dec. 7 episode).
This was evident pretty early on with ‘Nip/Tuck’ – a show that peaked in its second season and quickly fell into mediocrity. ‘Glee’ is already suffering from a sustained backlash and I’m afraid ‘American Horror Story’ won’t be far behind.
There is good news, though. I think there’s time to save the show if they get someone in there with a level head to be a show runner in the second season (which is already in the works).
The bad news is, next week is the season one finale and it involves the birth of twins – fathered by two different men – and the promise of some sort of demon baby possibly rising from the basement.
I’m not sure the show will be able to recover from that – but I’m still game to watch because part of me still really wants to love this show.
What do you think about ‘American Horror Story’s’ inaugural season?


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