Klavan On The Culture

TV: American Horror Story

I’m inclined to give this FX Original one or two more chances, but after the first two episodes, it’s not doing it for me.  I want to like it, but it just hasn’t ignited.

Rubber match.

It’s the story of the Harmon family, Dad, Mom and daughter, who move to a haunted house in LA to recover from family trauma.  Unfortunately, the house is evil and has a long, long history of what I believe is technically called “creepy badness.”

The cast is doing a good job, especially the women. Taissa Farmiga (sister of Vera of Up In the Air fame) plays the daughter with a strong attention to detail and her subtle beauty grows on you.  Jessica Lange has a field day with the role of a delightfully vicious neighbor with a Down Syndrome child. And Connie Britton, from Friday Night Lights, manages to play a wronged wife without getting on your nerves, no small feat. Nothing wrong with Dylan McDermott either, except his part is kind of ridiculous and under-researched and his character weak and unlikeable.

But it’s the story that isn’t working.  It’s overstuffed with scares and violence, and a lot of it is pretty cheap.  Too many women walking down dark corridors.  Too many things jumping out at you, people standing there you hadn’t realized were there and so on.  There’s so much of it, it’s already gotten almost comical. And when the writers try to play with that by injecting irony, it just feels forced. I think they would have scared us if they could have. Instead, they laugh knowingly at themselves. Yeah, thanks. Pass the remote.

And with all those scares, too, there’s not an original one among them.  Whether it’s the child warning, “You’re going to die in there,” ala The Exorcist or the house possessing Dad and playing on his weaknesses ala The Shining or the mysterious stranger following the hero around to deliver a warning ala The Omen, or any of a dozen other moments, you can pretty much sit there and name the source of every sequence.  The grandiose title—American Horror Story—gives the writers some cover for this:  the premise seems to be that the house has lived a large swath of American history horror by horror so the occasional reference to past films is appropriate enough.  But after a while, I found myself thinking more about what fancy, self-referential tricks the writers were up to than who the characters were or what was happening to them.  It all seems too, too post-modern—which, after all, is already post old hat.

As I say, I may give this another try before I knock it off my DVR list, but I find it a disappointment so far.


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