American Horror Story

By David Knox on October 27, 2011 / Filed Under Programming, Reviews 22

I love Ryan Murphy.

He doesn’t hold back with his storytelling. Excess and over-the-top ideas are turned on full throttle, often gloriously sending themselves up at the same time as being executing. Whether it’s in Glee, Nip / Tuck or his earlier outing Popular, he isn’t afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve.

As anybody who has followed Glee knows, when it works it’s truly fabulous. When it doesn’t it’s a crumbling mess. Murphy is do or die. His latest offering, American Horror Story is both.

Like a classic Amityville / Poltergeist / Addams Family tale, American Horror Story centres around a family in a spooky house.

Moving in are the Harmon Family, psychiatrist Dr. Benjamin Harmon (Dylan McDermott), wife Vivien (Connie Britton) and teenage daughter Violet Harmon (Taissa Farmiga). Can we say dysfunctional family? The real estate saleswoman (the wonderful Christine Estabrook) says the LA mansion was restored by its former owners, two gay men who died in a murder / suicide. As you do.

Benjamin and Vivien are attempting a new start, but there is distance between them, while Violet experiences difficulties fitting into her new school and subjects herself to self-harm. Benjamin uses one of the rooms in the expansive house as his consulting rooms, with a teenager Tate (Evan Peters) bordering on psychotic as his principal patient in the opening episode. Crossing lines between the professional and personal, Tate begins a dangerous friendship with Violet.

Get ready for eccentric neighbour Constance (Jessica Lange), full of resentment after a potential Hollywood career never took off, later compounded by the birth of her daughter Adelaide (Jamie Brewer) who has Down Syndrome. Addy is drawn to the energy of the house, which is excuse enough for Constance to intrude and get nosy.

Then there is an elderly housekeeper Moira (Frances Conroy) whose presence unsettles Ben (for reasons that would frankly, be a spoiler). Denis O’Hare plays a previous owner full of dire forebodings. With just a handful of characters, Murphy and co-creator Brad Falchuk set up a volatile universe.

Then there is the style of the piece. The music is often grand, with classical strings from Bernard Hermann’s Vertigo, plus Kill Bill whistling, and Patience and Prudence’s version of Tonight You Belong To Me. The camera sporadically zooms in, creating a sense of unease. The labyrinthine setting feels full of dark secrets and dangerous corners. There are scenes that are flashbacks, dream -or is that nightmare- sequences, and constantly toying between reality/ unreality. Sometimes it’s positively David Lynch…

Britton looks like she will pack a punch in this show, with a role full of bitterness and a ballsy performance. One blazing row between Connie and Ben goes too far in its angst, like an audition scene for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

But it’s Jessica Lange who steals the show here, with her sly, twisted neighbour, deftly touched with a hint of a Southern accent. She switches from smiling charmer to vindictive bitch. Love it.

There are just enough spooky moments to give you a thrill, including the demented opening credits that borrow from the True Blood school of Opening Titles.

American Horror Story is bold, sexy, delicious fun that fascinates as much as it perplexes. It’s far from perfect, but there are flashes of brilliance and it arrives with huge potential. Because it’s light years better than a lot of the pedestrian drama we see on the box, this really should be on TEN where it could attract an audience deserving of its bravado. But maybe on ELEVEN the adventurous, discerning viewer will be rewarded. I know I was.

American Horror Story airs 9:30pm Tuesdays on ELEVEN.

22 Comments »

  1. jan November 26, 2011 at 6:14 pm -

    This is great viewing. I have just stared watching it and I’m hooked.

  2. meegs73 November 24, 2011 at 12:00 pm -

    This is a brilliant show and love the work of Murphy and Falchuk! They rock. Anyone who is familiar with their style, knows they cram as much into an episode – but it is done in a way that keeps you on the edge of your seat…same people would be complaining that it was “slow in the middle”!! AHS is just one of those shows that keeps you guessing, even after you think you know whats happening! Scares the pants off me, but I can’t look away!!

  3. Nigel Patterson November 16, 2011 at 2:38 pm -

    Last night’s episode opened with a jolt but quickly dissipated into dross. Did not engage me as a viewer after the first 20 minutes.

  4. Jonno November 8, 2011 at 1:08 pm -

    Watched the opening show and while overall impressed couldn’t help but think they tried to cram to much into one episode. For example, the bullying storyline could cover an episode. Largely agree with Justin’s comments. There is a very good show in there trying to get out. And so, so happy to see Jessica Lange again.

  5. Matthew See October 29, 2011 at 12:24 pm -

    I have seen Eleven’s promo of American Horror Story and am surprised that Eleven has not promoted it as being from the creators of Glee. Is Eleven trying to distance the Glee audience from American Horror Story.

  6. steve sydney October 28, 2011 at 12:26 am -

    I’ve been in love with Dylan since The Practice..

    Jessica Lange.. superb actress..

  7. justin October 27, 2011 at 5:29 pm -

    This is the bi-polar of television shows. It has no idea what to do with itself, the plots (if you can call them that) are all over the place. There is a very good show waiting to pop out, but at the moment it is just not very good, it is very watchable though. The horror scenes are well done, the failing marriage stuff is not handled quite so well, with some rather shoddy dialogue. Connie Britton is brilliant as usual, McDermott is, well… he is not anywhere near up to his co-star’s level, he really does not know how to play the campiness that this show is going for, in ep 4 Zachary Quinto shows how to do it perfectly. As I said above, once this show irons out the kinks that drag it down quite a bit, there will be a very enjoyable horror show on dislpay.

  8. Armchair Analyst October 27, 2011 at 4:53 pm -

    I have been watching the promos for this over the last week. Looks very good. the story is interesting and is something different. Theres some sexiness and eroticness, which is very good and the scaryness is ausome to, will watch. Hope they dont on sell it.

  9. DanR October 27, 2011 at 1:49 pm -

    Love this show to death!

  10. Secret Squïrrel October 27, 2011 at 12:56 pm -

    Me want. Eleven is the only commercial channel for this.

  11. David Knox October 27, 2011 at 12:07 pm -

    Katrina first episode is Nov 1st.

  12. Katrina October 27, 2011 at 12:05 pm -

    Why don’t Eleven advertise this, who know’s when its on! I would have loved to have seen the first two eps but now have to just start waching from now! FTA hopeless!

  13. Marco October 27, 2011 at 11:36 am -

    I love it. I just can’t see how this family will get beyond a season 1! If it gets to season 2 it wouldn’t surprise me that there is a new family every season.

  14. Kevin October 27, 2011 at 11:08 am -

    FX is only a basic cable network in the US, that can have slightly racier sex stuff than US network TV can, but to be totally uncensored with sex, violence and language, you need to be on premium cable. I haven’t seen AHS, but stuff that skews towards being too dark, is usualy limited to more discerning, intelligent Aus TV viewers, which is a very small group.

  15. deedeedragons October 27, 2011 at 10:37 am -

    I’ve seen all the eps. so far & i love it.

  16. David Knox October 27, 2011 at 10:17 am -

    There are sexually-charged scenes.

  17. toriwannabe October 27, 2011 at 10:02 am -

    Sounds exciting. But please stop using the word “sexy”. It’s the only thing that gives me doubts about this show.

  18. Callie October 27, 2011 at 9:16 am -

    Cannot wait David. Thanks for telling us about it as I would never have just ‘found it’!

  19. Smarty October 27, 2011 at 8:43 am -

    I love this program. Agree with everything David has written. However, this would never work on Ten, Seven or Nine. Australian audiences aren’t ready for leather clad gimp men, a teenage girl that cuts herself, a maid that spends more time masturbating than cleaning and a mother that calls her down syndrome daughter a ‘mongoloid’ in primetime.
    I sometimes wonder how disconnected this site is with Australian TV viewers.

  20. bb1975 October 27, 2011 at 7:04 am -

    This show is my new favourite. Utterly addictive. Acting is superb. Dylan McDermott is brilliant as is Jessica Lange.
    It’s more suspense than all out horror. Don’t miss it!

  21. mark October 27, 2011 at 6:45 am -

    I have seen all episodes so far and its a fantastic show….

  22. Craig October 27, 2011 at 6:22 am -

    I’ve now seen the first 2 eps and lets just say if you’re shocked by the pilot then ep2 is going to blow your mind.

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