Wednesday, November 21, 2012

American Horror Story is still an uneven mess

This year’s entry in the ‘American Horror Story’ annals – titled ‘Asylum’-- is markedly better than last season’s initial outing.

It’s still wildly uneven, though.

While the first season was essentially about things that go bump in the night – in a haunted house – this season is more about blood and gore. It’s just set in a twisted asylum in the 1960s.

I’m fine with blood and gore – don’t get me wrong – but AHS billed itself as “intellectual horror” from the beginning. I don’t see a lot of intellect being reflected in this year’s stories.

That’s not to say that I’m not enjoying this season’s outing – because I am. It’s definitely better than last season’s show. Of course, AHS started strong last year and devolved quickly – with show creator Ryan Murphy throwing everything at the wall to see what would stick. Most of it – especially towards the end – stunk more than anything else.

At the end of the first season, viewers weren’t left with any emotions that could be substantiated. The show was there one minute and gone the next – leaving nothing in its wake. Not even an echo.

I want more for AHS this season.

First off, horror is my favorite genre. I want AHS to succeed because horror is such a hard sell on television. For every successful show – like ‘The Walking Dead’ – there is wasted quality like ‘American Gothic’ and total crap like ‘Wolf Lake.’

As a fan of horror, I want AHS to succeed. I think that’s the problem, though. I want to like the show more than I really do.

Let’s take a look at how the show is doing so far this year.

The Good

Sister Jude: Jessica Lange stole the first season of AHS. She does the impossible again this year with her twisted nun. So far we’ve found out that Sister Jude wasn’t always a nun. Not only was she the town, um, bike, but she also ran down a girl in a drunken stupor and left her to die on the side of the road. Sister Jude has a sadistic side. She gets off torturing the denizens of her little facility. She also likes the intrigue of fighting with her co-worker Dr. Arden. Oh, and we just found out last week that she’s also still picking up men in random bars and taking them home for a romp before stealing away in the early morning hours and pretending it never happened. Sister Jude isn’t a typical nun. Lange isn’t a typical performer either, though. Lange doesn’t make Sister Jude sympathetic, but she does make her interesting.

Lana Winters: Sarah Paulson is quickly becoming one of my favorite performers. Her portrayal of Lana Winters is nothing short of a revelation. Lana is this year’s lead heroine – and she’s the one character that I have sympathy for in this whole debacle. Lana has been locked up for being a lesbian – and her treatments have included aversion therapy and electro-shock therapy. Neither seemed to take. I think I like Lana because she is really the only innocent involved in this whole story. She thought the worst thing that could happen to her was being locked away and treated for a personality “aberration.” Boy was she ever wrong.

Sister Mary Eunice:  As played by the sweet Lily Rabe, Sister Mary Eunice was the other character that legitimately deserved sympathy – at the beginning. Now that whatever demon (or whatever it is) it was that took over and eventually killed the young boy early in the season has taken her over, though, she’s deliciously evil. Between playing Sister Jude and sexually teasing Dr. Arden, I can’t wait to see what Sister Mary Eunice has up her sleeve.

The Bad

Leo and Teresa: The modern day story at the asylum isn’t interesting. It isn’t scary either. It’s a distraction. I’m sure we’ll find out some important tie by the end of the show – but I honestly can’t muster up the interest to care.

Monsignor Timothy Howard: I sure hope they have more for Joseph Fiennes to do in the next few episodes, because he’s been completely wasted so far this year. I think I can count on one hand how many scenes he’s been in and only the revelation that he knows what Dr. Arden is up to was of any interest. Fiennes is way too good of a performer to be wasting like this. Give him something to do.

The Aliens: I don’t know if we’ll really find out that aliens abducted Kit Walker’s wife – or what they did to Grace – but I find the scenes disjointed. If I had to guess, whatever Kit really saw and what really happened to Grace was so awful they imagined the “alien” angle – or maybe even had it mentally suggested to them. However, if it does turn out to be aliens, this how will have set a land record for jumping the shark.

Too Soon To Tell

Dr. Thredson: I absolutely love Zachary Quinto as a performer. He was the best thing about 'Heroes' – through its entire run – and he absolutely nailed it on the big screen as Spock. Even in the first season of AHS, Quinto was one of the few characters I found charismatic enough to watch. During the early episodes of this season, Quinto’s Thredson was too good to be true. You knew that couldn’t last. Still, the reveal that he’s Bloodyface somehow feels off to me. I’m willing to withhold my judgement on this reveal for another couple of episodes – mostly because I love Quinto so much – but I’m not sure this was the right way for the show to go. Still, Quinto and Paulson are bound to have some pretty intense scenes coming up – and I can’t wait for those.

Dr. Arden: Okay, here’s the thing, I like the “dirty doctor” and his perversions. James Cromwell is a strong actor and he pulled off the dichotomy really well. I even like making him a Nazi doctor – the idea of him doing his little “experiments” in the basement is just creepy enough to work. What I don’t like is Anne Frank’s arrival – that’s pushing it a little too far, even though we know she was making it up – and the monsters on the property. These are still people. How have only a handful of people seen his monsters? And what a waste for Chloe Sevigny. We only got to see her fun nympho for two episodes before she had her legs cut off, her face mutilated, and an unfortunate dumping at an elementary school. If you’re able to get actors of this caliber – utilize them.

What do you think? What’s working on ‘American Horror Story’ and what’s not?


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