If you want to give Ryan Murphy credit for one thing, he’s apt at creating characters that are so unlikable you only continue to watch to see how low they will go. With Nip/Tuck the doctors of McNamara/Troy were so terrifically awful that you were glued to your TV screen, at least until the ill-fated move to LA, but with American Horror Story, set in LA, you almost want to be in the screen with them, if only to warn them of their own stupidity.
Created by Murphy and Brad Falchuk, AHS is a take on the haunted house format that attempts to intertwine the awful lives of the protagonists, The Harmons, with a house that is clearly possessed by something. What that something is won’t be revealed until part way through the season (we hope), but you can bet that exercising it won’t be as simple as burning some sage. In fact, sage burning is only one of the classic horror mechanisms portrayed in AHS. Don’t go in the basement (or attic), bad things happen when you have sex and if things get really tense and quiet, be prepared to be scared, its borderline cliche at times, but still entertaining.
Vivian (Connie Britton), Ben (Dylan McDermott) and their daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga) move from Boston to LA after Vivian delivers a stillborn baby and catches Ben trying to cope with their lack of sex life by banging one of his students. Rather than take the American way out, they decide to move across the country and purchase a house in an expensive neighborhood for a third of what the house is worth. Why? Well as we are introduced to the house in 1978, it kills people who go into the basement, namely two brace-faced gingers who are sliced and diced up by what looks like a scary clown, although it isn’t that scary.
Moments like this happen throughout the pilot as the first episodes frantic pace keeps you on the edge of your seat, but not for the scares, which are comparably tame to some of the better horror fare on the market, but for the disturbing imagery promised from this “psycho-sexual” series.
From the weird neighbor next door, Constance (Jessica Lange) and her Down-syndrome daughter Addy (Jamie Brewer), to one of the previous owners of the house who burned his daughters to death and nearly himself, the creeper level of the series is at an all-time high. When Ben and Vivian finally are able to reconnect on a physical level the latex suited gentlemen from all of the posters arrives to perform round two, although Vivian doesn’t see the latex man for what he is, instead she sees what she wants.
Misperception is a constant theme in the series. When Moira (Frances Conroy) shows up as the haunted house’s housekeeper, she’s an all business, old woman to Violet and Vivian, but to the constantly struggling cheater Ben she’s a twenty something maid (Alex Breckenridge) who like short skirts and taking breaks from her cleaning to do some self-exploration.
One of the biggest keys to the series (and house itself) seems to be Tate (Evan Peters) a troubled teenager who lusts about shooting up his school and making his victim’s beg for their lives; however in a particularly bizarre and unexplainable situation he’s apparently able to summon the aforementioned scary clown demons to institute some payback on behalf of Violet. This all goes unexplained in the near term, however for the series to be truly successful answers will need to come and be somewhat understandable and hopefully the writers don’t fall into the same trap that Lost’s writers did a number of years ago where the mythology became so rich and so dense that it was impossible to explain it all away.
Not that American Horror Story has to explain it all, but the series is so weird and so blatantly grotesque at times that the thought of finding out why a 100 year-old house would be trying to kill its inhabitants and forgetting about the unlikable characters might be all viewers have to hang on to for now.
A Pilot doesn’t make or break a series, its usually the follow-up episodes that are able to begin to flesh out what we’ve seen and set up the season at hand, for AHS, the next couple of weeks will be very important into ascertaining if viewers are along for the ride, or moving out of the house altogether.