Thursday, November 10, 2011

Welcome to the Murder House

It's been a banner year thus far for dark fare on television, with the launch of shows like Death Valley and Grimm and the return of The Walking Dead.  But the darkest, edgiest series of all without a doubt is American Horror Story.

In a nutshell, this is a haunted-house narrative set in a California mansion in the modern-day.  But the show offers more than just standard horrors; there are some truly and uniquely weird happenings in the Harmon family's recently-purchased home (not the least of which is the repeated appearance of a menacing figure in a black latex bodysuit). 

American Horror Story hooks its viewing audience masterfully, opening each week with an unnerving flashback scene (that typically dramatizes the long and bloody history of the so-called "Murder House").  The start of last night's episode ranges
beyond the mansion but arguably constitutes the show's most disturbing scene to-date: a Columbine-like school massacre that leads to the teenage character Tate's ghostly presence in the Harmon household.

I've never been a huge fan of Dylan McDermott's acting, and his turn here as cheating-husband Ben Harmon isn't likely to dissuade me of that viewpoint.  Other players, though, give some incredible performances.  Denis O'Hare, the scene-stealing Vampire King from Season 3 of True Blood, is much less flamboyant here but no less terrific as a grotesquely disfigured former resident of the Murder House.  And Jessica Lange's role as next-door neighbor Constance--a decadent Southern belle with a sharp tongue and a shady past--positively screams Emmy nomination.

My major concern with this series is sustainability.  How long, for instance, before the ongoing dramatic irony (the Harmons' failure to realize that they are interacting with ghosts) causes the audience to grow frustrated with, and lose sympathy for, the protagonists?  More importantly, how much horror can occur in one home before absurdity begins to set in?  For now, though, the imagery is creepy
enough and the storyline complex enough to make American Horror Story a must-see every Wednesday night at 10 on FX.


Belinda Frisch said...

I love it. It's the bright spot in my TV week. I see your point about the long haul, but there's so much to do with what's set up already. It might not manage several seasons, but this one rocks.

Joe Nazare said...

Hi Belinda. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the show can maintain its quality, because I'm really enjoying it thus far as well.