CHICAGO – Ryan Murphy (“Nip/Tuck,” “Glee”) returns to the network that turned him into a star with this week’s premiere of the highly-anticipated “American Horror Story,” a new FX series that mixes sex with the supernatural to create something truly unique. The show’s very existence feels like it could be inspired by HBO’s “True Blood” (another show with horror and sex). That said, “American Horror Story” carves its own unique, bizarre, and often-mesmerizing identity from week one. I have some reservations after a slightly-inconsistent premiere episode, but I can’t wait to see what Murphy and his supremely talented cast does next.
Television Rating: 4.0/5.0
The closest relative of “American Horror Story” would have to be Stephen King’s “The Shining” (or, more accurately, Stanley Kubrick’s visualization of it). Just as in that book/film, an already-troubled family moves into a very-haunted house that doesn’t just go bump in the night but plays off their own insecurities and fears, making them three-dimensional and sometimes terrifying. With stellar performances and one of the most consistently engaging and unusual visual styles on TV right now, it’s hard to knock “American Horror Story” simply due to the fact that it’s so original. Where the Hell they go from here is another question. I can’t imagine what “AHS” will be like in seasons two or three (although if Murphy’s other creations are any indication, we don’t want to know…”Nip/Tuck” and “Glee” both peaked in their first or arguably second seasons) but I’m very curious to see where it goes in this one.
American Horror Story
Photo credit: FX
The Harmons are a messed-up clan. In the opening scenes, mother Vivien (Connie Britton) is dealing with the emotional and psychological fallout of losing a pregnancy when she comes home to find her psychologist husband Ben (Dylan McDermott) in the middle of a very special session with one of his clients. In an effort to leave the ghosts of their shattered lives behind and rebuild their family, Vivien and Ben cart daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga) across the country to Los Angeles, where they move into one of those homes that most kids in the neighborhood avoid, especially on Halloween.
American Horror Story
Photo credit: FX
Trying to get back into a regular routine, Ben starts meeting clients in his home, including a troubled young man named Tate (Evan Peters) who takes an interest in the Harmon daughter. The Harmons meet the estate’s housekeeper, a redhead named Moira, who most people see as played by the almost-60 Frances Conroy (“Six Feet Under”) but who manifests herself as her 35-years-younger version (Alexandra Breckenridge) to the horndog Ben. Clever twist. The Harmons also meet neighbors Adelaide (Jamie Brewer) and her super-creepy mother Constance (Jessica Lange) along with a disfigured local (Denis O’Hare) who reveals a secret past with the house to Ben.
The first episode of “American Horror Story,” directed by Murphy, requires a lot of set-up. We need to meet all the characters, get to know their fears/problems, have some concept of what the show will be like week-to-week, and, hopefully, get in a good scare or two. With all of that in mind, the premiere works. I want to see what its like mid-season before truly praising it because I worry that it’s going to be hard to maintain something this intense from week-to-week but this is a daring concept that could be a true creative home run if it builds on what happens in the first episode.
It certainly has the ensemble to do so. Everything is made better with the inclusion of Connie Britton and McDermott proves to a be a surprisingly-perfect counterpart to her acting style. They’re a believable couple who is even more believable in their marital problems. Farmiga (Vera’s sister), Peters, O’Hare, Conroy, Breckenridge — if you can say one thing about Ryan Murphy that’s undeniable, he knows how to cast his shows. He finds the right people for the right roles and he’s done so again with “American Horror Story.” What about Lange? She’s relatively minor in the first episode but one can easily see her gleefully chewing some scenery and becoming a cult icon for a much younger audience that may not be familiar with her work. She still rules, of course.
As I mentioned, it’s hard to picture “The Shining: The Series” or “The Amityville Horror: The Series” maintaining the right balance of scares with weekly drama so I do have concern as to where “American Horror Story” could go from here. Having said that, the premiere is pretty great and even more remarkable when one considers the potential. Sure, it makes sense to worry that a show like this can’t maintain long-term, but can you imagine how incredible it will be if it can?
By BRIAN TALLERICO