My candidate for craziest new show this fall is, by far and away, American Horror Story. The newest television outing from producers Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy is the story of a family – Ben, Vivien and their teen daughter Violet – as they move to a new, extremely haunted house in Los Angeles in an effort to get past their damaged life back east. With a pedigree that is equal parts LOST, Twin Peaks and (believe it or not) Glee, the show is basically a classic horror story gone way over the top.
Anyone else get the sense that all our carefree times avoiding our tragic pasts are about to come to an end?
Pretty much every gothic archetype is here. Creepy Victorian house that was once the scene of a murder and is now on the market for a steal? Got one. Scary presence in the basement? Check. Eerie girl-child with Downs Syndrome who likes to tell people, “you’re going to die in there”? Yup. Fading Southern Belle neighbor with a deep secret? But of course. Ambiguity about exactly which characters may actually be living or dead? Natch. They’ve even thrown in a burn-victim survivor (or IS he?!?!) to make cryptic comments whenever Ben goes for a run.
American Horror Story shares the same basic genetic code as its older, more show-tune-y sibling in that it wants to throw everything it can at you as quickly as possible so that you’ll like it. It doesn’t so much as jump from plotline to plotline as run through them at high speed. One moment we’re learning about Ben and Vivien’s faltering marriage but then we need to see how Violet is dealing with the American Eagle models who are beating her up at school but there’s also Addie, the developmentally disabled girl who seems to have a connection with the mysterious presence in the basement of the house but wait, did we also tell you about the maid is both a middle-aged woman and a sexy, early twentysomething at the same time and then it’s time for the first commercial.
But where the show really drives into Capital “C” Crazytown is the sex. In only two episodes, we’ve seen Ben have an affair in his own marriage bed, the maid in her straight out of Fredrick’s of Hollywood uniform masturbating in between laundry cycles, several shots of Ben’s naked rear end, a nurse being sexually assaulted, Jessica Lange getting intimate with a young man several decades her junior and Ben (yes, again) masturbating and crying while fully naked and presumably wondering what he’s going to have to do on camera if this show makes it to season two. And that’s all not even counting Vivien’s love scene with what is either her husband or possibly the disturbed teenage boy who’s stalking her daughter or possibly a ghost. Dressed as a gimp.
I don’t know if American Horror Story is any good, but I can say that after two episodes it is entertaining. Despite high production values that would normally dictate otherwise, the show wisely banks far more on a pervasive eeriness for its scares than on CGI monsters or effects. If the show can get some of its more ADHD tendencies under control, this could be a seriously spooky and effective TV show.