‘American Horror Story’ Series Premiere Review

Published 4 years ago by , Updated October 4th, 2011 at 2:31 am,

Jessica Lange Evan Peters Jamie Brewer Dylan McDermott Connie Britton Taissa Farmiga American Horror Story FX American Horror Story Series Premiere Review

American Horror Story has become one the most buzzed about new shows of the fall season, and with good reason. After weeks of cryptic ads hinting at the ‘psycho-sexual’ nature of the series – in which a rubber-clad individual dangles above a very pregnant woman – viewers are ready to find out just what there is to fear from this new horror series conjured by Nip/Tuck and Glee creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk.

First and foremost, Murphy and Falchuk want to make it clear that for all the hubbub and puzzlingly sexual marketing, American Horror Story is their twisted take on the classic haunted house story – a very precisely and calculated one. Meaning, answers are coming – just not right away.

The first piece of the puzzle comes in the form of the show’s opening credits, which evoke a certain Se7en-like experience wherein unpleasant and disturbing images serve as a sort of preamble to the series. Murphy himself described the opening sequence as a mystery unto itself – and that all the images are directly tied to questions that will be answered by the time the ninth episode has aired.

Like any good haunted house story, the house in question is the first ‘character’ to which the audience is introduced – however the year is 1978, and the house’s menace is conveyed through a young girl named Adelaide, who warns two bat wielding ginger twins of their impending doom, before they run afoul of something dangerous lurking in the house’s basement.

After that initial scare, American Horror Story jumps to present day, introducing the Harmons, Ben (Dylan McDermott) and Vivien (Connie Britton), who are at a bit of a low point – Vivien having delivered a stillborn child some months prior, comes home to find Ben dealing with his grief by sleeping with a 21-year old student in the couple’s bed.

Connie Britton Dylan McDermott Taissa Farmiga American Horror Story American Horror Story Series Premiere Review

By some miracle (or great misfortune) the couple avoids divorce court, heading instead away from their home in Boston to start anew in Los Angeles, with their teenage daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga) in tow.

After shrugging off the realtor’s disclosure that their new home’s previous occupants vacated the premises by way of murder-suicide, Ben, Vivien and Violet move in – and things get kooky pretty fast.

For starters, the house seems to have plenty of history living outside its walls – namely in the form of the Harmon’s new next door neighbor, Constance – played delightfully by the episode’s major standout Jessica Lange. Constance and her daughter, the now grown Adelaide, walk right in, making themselves at home as though guests of the house itself.

Frances Conroy (Six Feet Under) shows up as Moira the housekeeper; she, too, manifests as if beckoned by the house. Unfortunately for the infidelity-prone Ben, Moira appears to him as the comely Alexandra Breckenridge (True Blood) – complete with French maid outfit and thigh-high stockings.

Meanwhile, Ben, a psychiatrist, seems to be treating only one patient: Tate (Evan Peters, Kick Ass), a possibly psychotic teen who fantasizes about decimating his high school classmates. Tate shares a tender moment with Violet, as the two compare the scars of self-inflicted cuts like some sort of spoiled teen version of Quint and Hooper from Jaws.

Despite the inordinate amount of information offered in just under an hour, American Horror Story’s pilot episode moves by at a deliberate and frenetic pace. To Murphy and Falchuk’s credit, the brisk tempo serves the multiple converging plotlines well, allowing weirdness to befall everyone in their own unique way, while producing a myriad of questions for the viewer to ponder.

For one – though we sympathize with Vivien – there appears to be no clear-cut protagonist to the series. More often than not – especially in the case of Constance, Moira and the absurdly introduced Larry ‘The Burn Guy’ Harvey (Dennis O’Hare, True Blood) – everyone is hiding something from everyone else. Like the population of Murphy and Falchuk’s Nip/Tuck, the characters in American Horror Story are almost exclusively unlikable. That doesn’t mean they aren’t interesting, however.

Alexandra Breckinridge Frances Conroy as Moira American Horror Story FX American Horror Story Series Premiere Review

Alexandra Breckenridge & Frances Conroy as Moira on 'American Horror Story'

There are some delightful ironies amongst the characters, such as Vivien’s aversion to hormones and every-day chemicals she considers dangerous, but yet she places her family directly in harm’s way by moving into the house and failing to recognize the inherent malevolence of the place. Ben (possibly the weakest character so far) falls under the familiar trope of being a psychologist who doesn’t quite get his own family. It’s Constance, however, who steals the show when she declares how she appreciates lineage, and “considers breeding important,” but is not averse to sheltering the occasional “mongrel” – referring, of course, to her daughter having Down syndrome. The jab at Adelaide is both offensive and shocking, but Constance’s sense of motherhood still rears its head, when she displays a willingness to fiercely protect her child from others.

To that end, Murphy and Falchuk have made motherhood a major aspect of American Horror Story – almost to the point that it has become perverse and fetishized, stripped of its beauty and wholesomeness, as has nearly everything in the frightfully amoral world presented in this series’ pilot.

This being a horror story, the deconstruction of familiar tropes is likely the point.

Starting with an overwhelming sense of unease and foreboding, which soon cascades into an unrelenting torrent of Lynchian weirdness, it is very clear that American Horror Story is altogether a different kind of animal than those horror films waiting to startle you in your theater seat. Sure, AHS owes a great deal of its premise to haunted house films like The Shining and the classic versions of House on Haunted Hill or 13 Ghosts – but if memory serves, none of those films had a creepster in a rubber bodysuit putting the moves on Connie Britton (a scene, which should encourage all couples to draw definitive bondage suit ground rules before ever utilizing one).

Latex bodysuits aside, the scares (or attempts thereof) in AHS are everywhere – which is both a credit to the series and a bit of a detriment. By the time the episode ends, the viewer feels so spent from processing the onslaught of disturbing images that an accurate assessment of the pilot practically requires another viewing – though FX likely won’t mind.

FXs first promo video and poster for American Horror Story American Horror Story Series Premiere Review

Moreover, as with most horror films or programs, the barrage of the unexplained likely leaves many in the audience asking why the characters respond to such supernatural threats in the manner they do. But it would be unfair to judge American Horror Story based on the supposed greater common sense of the viewer. The reluctance or complete lack of desire by Ben, Vivien and Violet to leave the house – despite copious warnings to do so – is well established.

Again, to the credit of Murphy and Falchuk, the presentation of a fractured family-on-the-mend is convincing enough that the abandonment of the house (at this stage) would be tantamount to calling it quits as a family – thereby absolving them (somewhat) of any guilt associated with whatever befalls them. It is the very question regarding the fates of these characters, and the promise of answers to the many questions posed in the pilot that should keep most tuning in.

American Horror Story certainly succeeds in getting viewers’ attention, but as the series progresses through its thirteen episodes, will that be enough? For the series to work, it is going to have to do a better job of metering the shock with entertainment. That being said, the show’s creators have developed hits from smaller foundations that weren’t nearly as complex. Given the frenzied pace at which uncertainty is lobbed at the viewer, it would be premature to take a definitive stance on this series – other than saying that nothing else on television really comes close to this.

American Horror Story airs Wednesday nights @10pm on FX.

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  1. I knew almost a month ago I’d be watching this. Now I know I’ll be strangling my roommates if they get in my way on Wednesday night.

  2. This sounds like it would irritate the hell outta me…

  3. i wasnt sure if iwas going to wtch his, now i think i might check it out!

  4. If I feel like I’ve been taking too many meds while watching, I won’t be watching long. TV writrs don’t just write stories, they take drugs and then write. I can’t follow without a great deal of thinking (no thanks), what is going on.

    I will give this show a chance but I think Southpark or Hot in Cleveland are on the same time?

  5. did not read this until i saw it myself, this is up my alley for sure

    only thing that made me curl was the male nude scene of dylan and what he was doing in front of the window

    cannot wait for more…

    the mongrel reminded me of the two on kingdom hospital that i think had down syndrome also as in how they use the character if you get what i mean

  6. Gotta say it was interesting to say the least. If they are gonna advertise nudity it would be NICE to see more than just guy butt. 😛

    The creepiest and most head turning thing for me thus far (aside from the blatantly, in your face, strobe scene in the basement) was the maid who changes her look depending on who is looking at her. Also when Lange said “Don’t make me kill you again” that REALLY was an eyebrow raiser.

    Lots if things to keep me watching, that’s for sure.

  7. Poo poo bum

  8. Dvr and watched it tonite. AHS def pushes the envelope and censors. Lots of diff story lines but all very exciting. Reminds me of the Shining but updated. Can’t believe they dropped c*cksucker and p*ssy on FX. I’m used to hearing sh*t from other Sunny in Philly

  9. This episode had so many WTF moments and while it was almost too much to process it was defintley entertaining. This show looks like it might be able two fill the hole in my heart that Nip/Tuck left. Looking forward to next weeks episode!

  10. I love this show!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. Am I *realy* the only one who thinks this show blows?? I don’t want to see some naked guy every 10 mins, and I certainly don’t want to watch him masturbate. Seriously, fully nude, standing up, whacking off. Why in the hell would I want to see that (and, I’m a woman who thinks he is good looking). None of the sex scenes were hot, but they were all inane, over done and old hat. The black latex body suit? BORING. That is so 1987.
    Anyway, it does get mesmerizing in a few places– but the *lazy* storytelling makes it SO not worth it. Instead of a good solid story, we mostly get flashes of random scenes and very short dialogue.
    Seriously, it should be called “American ADD Story” because it’s *not* a story, it’s a mashup of several stories- none of which are explored enough to make any sense.

  12. I think this show is cool, different, creepy, and fun—awesome story writing and acting.

  13. For sure this whole thing has no meaning and am loosing ma patience. Making a great deal in making it scary but it doesn’t make any sense. Not watching any longer….

  14. Kinda dick of seeing these comments: “story? What story, blah blah blah.” Yes it is a mashup of stories that don’t make sense at first. But if you haven’t watched all the way through, then of course it doesn’t make sense! If that kind of story-telling isn’t your cup of tea, then quit bashing the show! There are some of us who actually prefer a complex story spanned over a period of several episodes, and not some crappy, completely predictable anime or whatever kids watch that blows ots load all over 30 minutes into a series. Battlestar Galactica was great for this reason too! People just hated the ending because they were pissed it ended.