When I first started seeing advertisements for FX’s new show back in September, I was thrilled. I love me a good scare, and from what I could see, the show was right up my alley. But then I found out that it was made by the creators of Glee—don’t misunderstand, I’m a Gleek through and through (save your snarky comments, assholes) but how do the creators of a musical satire awash in pop culture references make the leap to horror? I was skeptical, to say the least.
The deceptively beautiful and tortured Moira
But American Horror Story is the crack of the Fall television season. I find myself eagerly awaiting the next installment even more so than my beloved Dexter. FX certainly pushes its limits in what It can broadcast, but the secret is in the excellent acting, and twisted macabre funhouse of interwoven, ghastly stories. Each week exposes more and more of the dark, sordid past of the “Murder House”, while still engaging in the main story line of the show, which follows the Harmon family as they descend into madness, murder, and death. Just another Pleasant Valley Sunday.
Of course, you have to suspend disbelief to swallow any portion of the show’s shadowy twisted plot. But if you can believe in the universe created by Murphy and Falchuk, the show is engaging, somewhat confusing, and downright disturbing.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Each week delves deeper into the lives of the Harmon family, who have moved from Boston to LA in the hopes of a fresh start for their struggling family. What they don’t realize is that their new home sweet home has a grisly history – every previous inhabitant has suffered some sort of untimely and brutal end. The show progresses and adds to the intrigue of the “Murder House” mythology by showing the mental and emotional decline of the Harmons, their seeming descent into a palpable hell, and is only bolstered by the intricate unraveling of the supporting character’s storylines.
Ah, young love. Sweet, psychotic love.
Falchuk and Murphy have done an exquisite job here, in my opinion, and after closer examination, I can see how they transcended bubble gum teenagers. In Glee, there is a lot of hyperbolic flair that embellishes the story line and satire. They don’t always hit their mark, but the world of “New Directions” is solid, and relateable. The characters are caricatures, to be sure, but relateable caricatures nonetheless.
American Horror Story achieves some of its startling creepiness by playing on what works in Glee – the characters are accessible, and while what happens to the main characters defies logic, you can see how they arrive in the fucked up scenarios they do.
Clever foreshadowing works well here, as plots unwind, and seemingly unrelated characters or scenes coalesce. It makes for more engaging television, in my opinion, forcing us to Encyclopedia Brown our way to some connection or conclusion that is paramount to the show. Without giving too much away, I’d advise a new viewer to pay close attention.
But the biggest strength in AHS lies in its attention to atmosphere and pacing. Many scenes go from “meh” to downright horrifying by playing on the psyche of the viewer – skewed camera angles portray a state of mind, and are effective rather than campy. The scenes where the horror is suggested more than shown send chills down my spine (what exactly DOES the original owner’s baby look like? I’m afraid I don’t want to know). The quick-as-lightning screenshots of the ghastly horrors living in the basement do far more to scare me than the torture-porn popular in recent years. There’s just enough gore peppered to whet my appetite, and enough implied to leave me unsettled after each episode.
A strong cast also drives what could be written off as a campy attempt at genuine prime time horror. Jessica Lange was nominated for her role as the chain smoking debutante-come-aging failure, Constance, and the story line of the troubled Violet and her psychotic but endearing boyfriend Tate gains traction by being painfully familiar, if dramatized for the screen.
Making crazy look good since 1949.
All in all, the series has exceeded my expectations. Is it flawless? Absolutely not. But it captures an element of storytelling and horror that I haven’t seen in a long time. I’m riveted.
And there hasn’t been a spontaneous performance by Journey yet. Well done, boys, well done.