The Harmon family has some issues. Dad had an affair which Mum has neither forgiven nor forgotten and daughter is one of those American Teenagers. They decide to get a fresh start by moving into a giant creepy looking house with a history of the inhabitants murdering each other. No surprise – weird stuff starts happening.
American Horror Story is created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck, most famous for Glee which seem a good pedigree for this, they dragged the musical format onto 21st century television (for better or for worse), so why shouldn’t they do the same for horror? To be honest, I’m not really much of a horror fan, especially not the kind that make you jump or the kind that are full of blood and gore. I can however appreciate a nicely constructed creepy story that gradually builds a sense of unease.
The trailers seemed to indicate that it was going to take the creepy route, but actually it ended up being a rather disappointing (and not entirely coherent) mixture of all three. The few elements of subtle creepiness were completely overwhelmed however by cheap tricks like smash cutting, handheld cameras, deliberately going out of focus and borderline subliminal flashing images. Thanks to being on cable it could also get away with some plenty of blood, violence, sex and swearing that I felt fell into the “it’s not big and it’s not clever” category.
The second problem was a collection of pretty unsympathetic characters. The family has definitely been dealt a rough hand, but they’re also just not that likeable. Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights) is one of my favourite actresses, but her character is a bit all over the place. Her character is dealing with a lot, and there are probably good psychological issues for the fact that she is a bit all over the place, but while it makes her interesting, it doesn’t make you really care about her, she screams ‘get away from me’. Dylan McDermott is doing a reasonably good job but he’s on to something of a losing battle with his character – psychologists are often pretty annoying, and ones that hide their own massive failings behind statistics on how many other people are bastards doesn’t really help. Meanwhile all the other characters are just trying way too hard to be weird and creepy, despite being played by impressive names like Jessica Lange and Frances Conroy (Six Feet Under).
There are some structural issues with the pilot as well, bits of story and timelines that didn’t quite make sense, direction that’s annoying, and some terrible dialogue. Other than the direction itself though I liked the style, using an interesting font and the design of the house and things. But when the most positive things I can find to say about a show is that I like the idea of it and I like the font used for the credits, it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.
American Horror Story starts on FX, Monday 7th November
TV Fanatic – I have no doubt many viewers will love American Horror Story, if only because it’s different than anything else on television. I’d certainly prefer to watch it over yet another CBS procedural. I just need more for my viewing pleasure than a furrowed brow. The aim of a series can’t be solely to leave viewers asking WTF at the end of every episode, or, heck, every scene.
TV Line – This is a lot to process, and how you choose to do so will determine whether you enjoy this sprawling horror story for its unbridled bombasticness or close the book on it one chapter in.
Mo Ryan at AOLTV – It’s not that ‘American Horror Story’ is 100 percent awful, though at times it veers dangerously close to that. But longtime Murphy watchers know that it’s only a matter of time before the few promising elements are clobbered to death by the dumb moves his shows inevitably pull.