“American Horror Story” on FX
The idea of “Glee” writers-producers-creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk dreaming up an erotic-grotesque horror series for FOX’s envelope-pushing cable cousin FX sounds, at first, like a really bad idea. But then you might remember the duo also gave us six seasons’ worth of the FX-based plastic surgery drama “Nip/Tuck.” That show had more than its fair share of sick and twisted storylines (cannibalism, penis-free serial rapists, lobster claw babies, Brooke Shields as a stalker, Richard Burgi having sex with a couch). So, maybe they’ve got more than inspirational high school karaoke in them.
Say what you will, “American Horror Story” doesn’t look like much of anything else on TV. It’s like a horror movie, a Nine Inch Nails video and some late-night Cinemax sex drama exploded all over your TV screen. And that’s just the visuals. The bones of the script are simple enough to start with. Dylan McDermott (“The Practice”) and Connie Britton (“Friday Night Lights”) play the Harmons, a not-very-happily married couple who move to a reasonably priced (and incredibly haunted) Victorian mansion somewhere in L.A. As we come to learn, wife Vivien is still recovering from a traumatic miscarriage. Hubby Ben is in a state of permanent contrition having been caught red-handed boning a 20-year-old. Trapped in the middle is moody daughter Violet (Vera Farmiga’s look-alike little sis Taissa), who copes by cutting herself and listening to Morrissey. (My Chemical Romance would probably be more appropriate these days, but whatever.) Sounds like this dysfunctional clan is just itching for a Poltergeist-esque haunting.
But “American Horror Story” doesn’t offer up typical bump-in-the-night scares. It gives us a basement full of freaky medical experiments, a pair of redheaded twin bullies-turned-ghosts, a doomsaying neighbor with Down syndrome, an apparition in full rubber gimp gear, a paranoid former tenant with half a face, some toothy ghoul dressed in lace, and a mysterious maid who vacillates between old and creepy (Frances Conroy from “Six Feet Under”) and young and sex-starved (Alexandra Breckenridge, “True Blood”). As if that weren’t enough, the show also throws in the wonderful Jessica Lange as a nosey, nasty Southern-belle-next-door.
It sounds like a lot to digest. And it is. All of those elements are presented in a self-conscious, rapid-cut style that leaves you breathless and wondering what’s going to pop out from around the corner in every scene (ghostly gingers, burn victims, a butt-naked Dylan McDermott masturbating and crying). I haven’t been this confused and intrigued by a show since “Twin Peaks.” That’s both heavy praise and cautious condemnation. Some viewers will love it, others will loathe it.
So where does the show go from its head-spinning, eye-bending premiere ep? I’m hoping Murphy and Falchuk have a solid plan (though the second season of “Glee” doesn’t offer much hope). If they don’t, it’s gonna spin off into nonsense very soon. If they do, however, “American Horror Story” could be TV’s dirtiest, sexiest, bloodiest, creepiest addiction of the fall TV season.
“American Horror Story” airs Wednesdays at 11 p.m. on FX,