By Spencer Sterritt
American Horror Story, which premiered this fall on FX, marks what will hopefully be the final chapter in Ryan Murphy’s insane transformation from fairly successful TV writer (some Nip/Tuck, the first season of Glee) to complete lunatic. This show takes the worst elements from Glee, such as the lack of pacing, continuity, and subtlety, and amplifies them with gore and foul language. Only three episodes into its run, American Horror Story is kept alive only by its audacity, and even that is beginning to flag behind.
In terms of plot there’s…some, but episodes lack contained arcs, and seem to be cobbled out of random moments of interaction and exposition that Ryan Murphy and his writers find amusing. It centers on the Harmon’s, a troubled family of three from Boston who move to Los Angeles to start afresh. Silly them however, as they decide to buy the most obviously evil house, and from the moment they move in are tortured by ghosts, suffer their supremely odd neighbor Constance, and that guy in the leather bondage suit who was featured in almost every promo of the show (yet he’s only shown up once). It’s all incredibly random, though the mythology of the house, which features a seemingly endless number of murders, is intriguing.
There’s very little that’s “good” about this show. Some of the acting is okay, particularly by Jessica Lange and Frances Conroy, who play Constance and Moira the maid, respectfully. They are delightfully creepy, especially Frances Conroy, who appears to all males as a seductive 20 year old in a short outfit; the blatant sexism on the show makes it even creepier. In the pilot there are many legitimate scenes of creepiness, such as the cold open, the scenes with Leather Man, and anything to do with the basement of the house.
However, any sense of horror has dissipated by the third episode. There are no scares, not even cheap scares where something randomly jumps out from the dark. For a show that started so audaciously, there is very little gore or shocking imagery. The show spends too much time involved with characters who make absolutely no sense. The father Ben, played by Dylan McDermott, swings from a sensitive dad to an emotional, needy and angry husband in the time between two scenes. All of the characters are like this, featuring personalities that change depending on whatever mood the writers were in at the particular moment of writing. The same is true of the plot. Episodes and tone lurch around from camp, to a serious analysis of a crumbling marriage, to an old fashioned ghost story, with no sense of connectivity. Episodes don’t comfortably merge from one tone to the next, and genre’s don’t find themselves nestled comfortably within one another. It’s fully possible that the Three Writer theory that applied to Glee could apply to this show as well.
Most of all the show lacks confidence. The writers cannot figure out what they want their show to be so they throw everything they can possibly think of into the show, and very little of it sticks. New important characters are randomly introduced two-thirds of the way through episodes, plot points are dropped at random, and a home invasion by three psycho’s (which was supposed to be the main plot since the episode was called “Home Invasion”) doesn’t occur until halfway through the second act. American Horror Stories straddles the line between being watchable and bad, and simply bad. The mythology for a truly horrific show is there, but it’s mired by a complete lack of sensibilities as to what show it should be.