Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pilot Inspektor Tim: American Horror Story

The show: American Horror Story, Wednesdays on FX

The premise in ten words or less? Family moves into haunted house.

Any good? It's weird, I'll definitely give it that much. And not just weird by the relatively soft standards of television, but plain fucking nuts. The underlying haunted house story has been done a million times before, up through and including box office disaster Dream House just a couple weekends ago, but this series cranks the absurdity and surrealism of the thing up to eleven in a way that I admired for its audacity even as I questioned whether or not there was really any artistic ambition behind it whatsoever.

The central family, the Harmons, includes Connie Britton as wife / mother Vivien, Dylan McDermott as husband / father Ben, and Taissa Farmiga (who I assumed to be Vera Farmiga's daughter or niece but is in fact her 20+ years younger sister) as surly teen daughter Violet. After her five-year stint as Tami Taylor on Friday Night Lights, Britton is one of my favorite actresses of all time, and she's probably the main thing that had me interested in this show in the first place. She's very good, of course, but I almost question whether she's too good, playing starkly realistic and from the gut while almost everyone else is some degree of hammy (McDermott perhaps unintentionally).

Anyway, the Harmons deal with some fairly realistic issues, including Vivien's recovery from a miscarriage, Ben's infidelity, and Violet dealing with school bullies and cutting herself. But then there's Ben lighting fires in his sleep and trying to counsel a kid who fantasizes about shooting up the school who then romances Violet, and Vivien handling the creepy neighbor lady who keeps breaking in and the neighbor's Down syndrome daughter who repeatedly tells Vivien that she's going to die.

And finally, jettisoning all realism, Vivien hires a maid who appears to be a wrinkled old lady to everyone except Ben, to whom she's a sexy twentysomething who fingers herself in the middle of the house and tries to seduce him. Ben jerks off in front of a window and Vivien gets raped by the gimp from Pulp Fiction. Oh, and there's ghosts, of course, and a man with a half burned off face who warns Ben that everyone who lives in their new house goes crazy and eventually on a murderous rampage.

If all that made you go "What the hell?", don't worry, that only means you're sane. It's a pilot that sets up stories and conflicts and mysteries at a dizzying, almost self-parodying rate, and if you think it sounds stupid or not for you you're probably right. But I either found there to be the nugget of something intriguing or my TV crush on Connie Britton is substantial enough that I was tricked into thinking I did. Either way, my interest is perked, although I'm ready to jump ship to bitter mockery at a moment's notice if things go south. Seeing as the show is run by Glee's Ryan Murphy, I already have one hand on that life preserver.

Will I watch again? The show is weird enough to reel me in for a second episode, although it's safe to say the presence of Connie Britton plays a larger role still. But retaining me beyond that will require it maintaining close to the same fever pitch absurdity, which could be tough. We'll see. Even in the best case scenario I'll be forever irritated that Terriers is no longer on FX while this is. What I'm getting at is bring back Terriers assholes!

Premise: B-

Execution: C+

Performances: B+

Potential: B-


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