Sunday, October 23, 2011

Will FX Make Our Halloween? Please run American Horror Story as a Marathon

      Yes, there will probably be a torture porn movie or two released for what’s unfortunately turning into America’s new top holiday.  Skip the latest Saw knockoff – the original was execrable anyway – and instead watch American Horror Story on FX (Wednesdays at 10 p.m. – yes, it’s up against Revenge so it’s time to learn to set the DVR), the scariest work on television and probably at the movies as well.  So far, Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott and their daughter, Taissa Farmiga, have unwittingly moved into “The Murder House” in L.A.

Alexandra Breckenridge
and Frances Conroy as the maid
They’ve employed a maid that males see as hot Alexandra Breckenridge and females see as
dowdy Frances Conroy.  Their next door neighbors are Jessica Lange and Jamie Brewer as her developmentally delayed daughter.  Evan Peters is a teenaged client of psychotherapist McDermott and Denis O’Hare is a previous owner of the house who is disfigured because he set part of the house on fire, thereby killing his wife and daughters, and keeps giving McDermott ‘helpful advice’.  Each episode kicks off with the replay of another historical murder in the house (it was built in 1922 and so far there have been a number of these scenes involving almost all of the characters except those played by Britton, McDermott, and Farmiga) that then is revisited in the present.  If this continues for multiple seasons, this house will start to feel like the file box room in Cold Case where seemingly no murder had ever been previously solved in Philadelphia.
Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott, and Taissa Farmiga
      Beyond the contemporary family that wishes it wasn’t in the house but, for a variety of reasons (upside down housing market, pregnancy, the show hasn’t been canceled yet) is stuck there, I’m not certain which of the other characters are living or are anything more than figments of the main family’s imaginations.  Actually, the characters that haven’t lived in or around the house seem to be living, but I’m still not sure about the rest.  Mageina Tovah, Lily Rabe, Matt Azure, and Eric Close have contributed stellar cameos so far as various victims of the house that have reappeared as ghosts or maybe demons.  The head demon seems to be Lange’s character and this is the best work she’s done since Music Box and Crimes of the Heart.  She’s connected strongly with non-American directors, perhaps because of her extensive travels in Europe in the ‘70s.  Lange’s supporters have praised her intensity, but I’ve sometimes mistaken her silent immobility as a cover for whether she can remember her next line.  However, she’s creepy, frightening and, yes, sexy as the neighbor Constance.  And yes, she is a constant, which makes me wonder if this is an eternal gateway to hell.  The most fascinating aspect of the show is that the writers have only dropped hints about the extent and origin of the evil.  It hasn’t been explicated in the narrative, but the imagery is both beautiful and gory.  It recalls both Buñuel’s 1920s – 1950s films, Goya’s expressions of outrage, and John Carpenter circa 1978 – 1982.  It’s that good.
      Now, for the hard part:  can Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk sustain this level for a season or longer?  Nip/Tuck felt like a three season show, but went on far longer.  We got that people wanting to be beautiful on the outside are screwed up on the inside and the surgeons who ‘assisted’ these patients were the ugliest of all, but seven seasons was too much.  Glee has been on a break with the Baseball Playoffs and World Series on Fox and I don’t miss it because it wasn’t going anywhere interesting when it started up this third season.  It reached a narrative peak last season when the kids competed nationally in New York and came in twelfth and that was fair.  It didn’t recover for me after Jane Lynch’s Sue married herself and Carol Burnett (who made no sense in the role at all) played her negligent and negligible mother.  It was supposed to be a satirical response to the battle over civil unions and same-sex marriage, but it wasn’t clear politically and it wasn’t funny.  The Glee Project demonstrated the talent and excitement of the “Hey kids, let’s put on a show” musical subgenre with greater acumen than the past half season of Glee because it also detailed how much hard work is necessary to pull it off.  (David E. Kelley’s shows also are designed for three seasons and have not been creatively sustainable beyond that extent.)  
      See American Horror Story now while it’s still thrilling and on the air.  Connie Britton is as great on this as she was on Friday Night Lights while Dylan McDermott and Taissa Farmiga have limned ambivalent, difficult characterizations with subtlety.  Fingers crossed that this will run as a marathon soon on FX.

I cover my eyes and my hair stands on end through most of the show. Neil just refuses to be in the same room when it's on.

1 comment:

O-Town HD said...

The history of the house intrigues me, especially after the interactive house tour ( ) but I don't like *anyone.* The daughter is tedious, the husband is weak, the wife is... I want to like her but I just can't seem to. Though I do enjoy that she's a fighter.

The best character is the neighbor from hell, but I don't like her, and I definitely don't identify with her. With no connection to anyone, its hard to rationalize spending an hour every week with the show....