When its greenlight was first announced, American Horror Story instantly became one of the year's most-anticipated shows. Sure, America's love affair with Glee has begun to wane, and I don't think anybody was thrilled about the last, say, four seasons of Nip/Tuck, but it's a testament to creator Ryan Murphy's creativity (not to mention his self-promotion skills) that a basic-cable gothic horror serial would garner the interest it has. Add to that a truly talented cast—Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott, Jessica Lange, and Frances Conroy among others—and we were faced with nothing less than watercooler television.
So now that American Horror Story has finally arrived, how did Wednesday's premiere stack up to the hype? In short: WTF?
I don't know what any of us expected, but I have a feeling nobody expected THAT. American Horror Story is either great or terrible (still not sure!), and its pilot was basically a horror mixtape comprised of MANY familiar elements from other movies and TV shows that we've seen before, just never assembled in this way. I'm not sure it resulted in a coherent product, but I still came away excited, having seen something so insane and TV-unfriendly that I couldn't help but appreciate it for that fact. Dare to be different, you know?
Right off the bat, I will admit the premiere episode made basically no sense. Ostensibly about a troubled family who moves into a haunted house, this episode was pretty much structured like a musical (or maybe a porno?) with several setpieces linked by some of the loosest storytelling imaginable. So rather than bore you with plot details, here are the ten craziest things that happened in the American Horror Story premiere. (Be sure to comment below if I've missed anything!)
[SPOILERS AHEAD] [DUH]
In the opening flashback (to be sure, the episode's finest sequence) a pair of twin boys vandalized an abandoned house, only to find a menagerie of horrifying specimen jars in the basement—including several that were filled with BABY PARTS. Aaaaaahhhhh!! Why???
When Vivien (Connie Britton) discovered a black vinyl GIMP SUIT propped up in the attic (allegedly belonging to the previous owners, two gay men who murder-suicided), she understandably screamed. Later, when a PERSON walked into her bedroom WEARING IT, she barely batted an eye and immediately started SEXIN' with it. Because WHAT?
Pardon me, but what ON EARTH? This thing killed two kids, maimed a girl, and now will destroy my peaceful slumber for the next few days.
When Vivien decided to strip the wallpaper in the living room, she discovered these horrifying hand painted murals on all the walls. Even weirder, she LIKED them?
There's a chance this "original drama" may have actually just been a clip montage from other movies? Not sure. Let's count all the "homages," shall we?
• Bone wind chimes from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
• The whistling scene (and music!) from Kill Bill
• Dead twins from The Shining
• Ghost seductress from The Shining
• Husband-going-mad plotline from The Shining
• Man standing among the clotheslines like in Halloween
• Creepy older gentleman in dark suit like in Poltergeist II
• Mysterious pregnancy from Rosemary's Baby
• Taciturn, morbid daughter like in Beetlejuice
• Twitchy editing from the Saw movies
• Mysterious servants like in The Others
• High-pitched violins from Psycho
• Hand-thrown firecrackers like in Boogie Nights
• Full-face skull tattoo like the male model in those Thierry Mugler fashion ads (not to mention the Lady Gaga "Born this Way" video).
• Systematic murder of a family like in Amityville Horror
• Pervasive, insane dream logic like in pretty much any Dario Argento film
• What else? Anything I missed?
In what seems like a reprise of her evil drag queen character from Hush, Jessica Lange plays an aging Southern belle next-door neighbor who steals silverware and casually refers to her own daughter as a "mongoloid." Up until this scene American Horror Story was pretty serious, but when Jessica Lange dropped the M-bomb I was like, 'Whoops! This is a comedy!'
It was crazy enough when Frances Conroy just showed up in the backyard claiming to be the housemaid and Connie Britton immediately hired her. But THEN when she became all young and sexy and tried to seduce Dylan McDermott, and the daughter walked in on them, and suddenly Frances Conroy was straddling Dylan McDermott... what was going ON there? By the final scene, in which we learned that Jessica Lange had murdered this character once already, I was like, "Sure, obviously. That is reasonable."
Why was this subplot in the pilot? For like a ten-minute stretch, the episode ground to a halt so that Denis O'Hare (Ryan Murphy <3s True Blood so much!) could stalk Dylan McDermott and then tell him all about the time he murdered his own family (complete with flashbacks). Why? Just why?
One of the sadder WTFs was the total absence of characters worth rooting for. MAYBE Connie Britton's post-miscarriage basket case character, but certainly not the husband or daughter, who are both awful. Ugh, and that teenage boy? He is the worst character ever put on television. Maybe I'm rooting for Jessica Lange's daughter Adelaide. Team Adelaide!
Ultimately American Horror Story is completely insane. While Ryan Murphy clearly has great taste in other peoples' horror, the nearly fatal flaw of this pilot episode was an absolute dearth of tension or suspense. Plus the premise is just so questionable. How long can a weekly series survive once the home occupants notice the house is haunted? Are we really supposed to tune in and sympathize with idiots who remain in this horrible place?
For now, though, I can't believe American Horror Story is on television and that's probably why I'll keep watching. Boring it's not!
What about you? Did you like what you saw?