VIC’S REVIEW: ‘American Horror Story’ – Season One (FX – Wednesday, 10:00 p.m.)

American Horror Story revolves around the Harmons, a family of three who moved from Boston to Los Angeles as a means to reconcile past anguish. They move to a restored mansion, unaware that the home is haunted. The all-star cast features Dylan McDermott as “Ben Harmon,” a psychiatrist; Connie Britton as “Vivien Harmon,” Ben’s wife; Taissa Farmiga as “Violet,” the Harmon’s teenage daughter; Jessica Lange in her first-ever regular series TV role as “Constance,” the Harmon’s neighbor; Evan Peters plays “Tate Langdon,” one of Ben’s patients; and Denis O’Hare as “Larry Harvey.” Guest stars for the series include Frances Conroy as the Harmon’s housekeeper; Alexandra Breckenridge as the Harmon’s housekeeper; and Jamie Brewer as Constance’s daughter.

Rating:     75 out of 100

I suppose I’ve had more than ample time to let FX’s American Horror Story sink in. The new Season – American Horror Story: Asylum premieres on October 17th and we get a completely different locale, characters and story (Even though some actors like Jessica Lange and Zachary Quinto do return) to get wrapped up in. I admit that I was very pumped and psyched for this new horror series that eventually frightened the audience with a disturbing premise that forced the show to become somewhat polarizing to many viewers while definitely pushing the envelope.  It wasn’t from lack of execution, no doubt. The show, from the pilot alone, demonstrated flair, drama, scares and conventional yet capable performances from the cast. The opening alone (which is too damned long) gave me the creeps and had me dwelling on what I would find remotely terrifying about this show.  So, yes, I became excited about a weekly balls-to-the-wall horror series.

I wasn’t disappointed at all. I tuned in every week to watch the ghostly and ghastly happenings at the large, haunted mansion where the very dysfunctional Harmon family reside. Dylan McDermot as Ben Harmon is a shrink and practices from home. He has a sordid past indeed that involves cheating on his wife and alcohol dependency. Dylan is headstrong and provincial in his performance and bodes well in the role. Connie Britton, (Spin City) who is very fetching here, plays the emotionally estranged wife, Vivien. She is damaged as well. She trusts no one especially her husband and cannot seem to connect with their daughter, Violet, played brilliantly by Taissa Farmiga (Higher Ground). So, there is a lot of baggage here to begin with plus they have that other problem. They live in a very haunted house. A house that is so damn haunted we are introduced to terrifying new flashbacks regarding past occupants every week.

So, like I stated before, I thought some more on this show and re-watched some episodes and it doesn’t seem to be as exciting or revelatory the second time around. I am not as impressed now as when I watched the show initially. I think besides the very good acting ensemble, there are some flaws that didn’t stand out before. I think I became wrapped up in the shows brutal “in your face” horror antics every week that I missed the fact that the show lacked balance and was hurt by an increasing convoluted story-line. It confused me and that’s never good since I love to be scared… just not for the sake of being scared.

Many by now have seen the show’s first season and know all about the murderous intentions of the dead occupants of the mansion. So, I won’t go over the story very much. That cat has been out of the bag a long time now.

Jessica Lange’s (King Kong) portrayal of Constance Langdon is a marvel to behold. She is unpredictable, maternal one moment and a hellspawn the next. She is also murderous but caring and boy does she hate the Harmon’s shape-shifting maid Moira who appears differently to just about everyone in the house. Lange is most definitely the standout in this show. She gives us a tragic and multi-facted performance as Constance. She is the Harmon’s neighbor from hell who also has a long and sordid history regarding the mansion. Her son Tate, played by Evan Peters is just as whacked as she is. Tate, who is a spirit, seems to be very alive. He roams around the mansion like he owns it. How the hell do these people not know who are dead spirits and who are living people? Hmm. Curious. Anyway, Tate is a suicidal kid with a history of violence. He was my least favorite character. Too mopey and too whiney and eventually just a psychotic mama’s boy.

Rounding the very gruesome cast is Zachary Quinto, another great addition. He is one of the more rounded and believable characters. He is brilliantly well written. Quinto manages to steal every episode he’s in. He is fun to watch even though at times we get bogged down in some dumb “scary house” drama that goes no where. But anyway the show does work well when we aren’t subjected to too much information at once. When the story unravels nicely it’s good but mostly the creators (Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk) dwell on blasting us with images of bloody jars, slit throats, burnt people and guys dressed in leather. They do establish that the house has a mythology which includes tragic characters as if from a greek play. The Black Dahlia, played stunningly by Mena Suvari, being one of them. I would normally get a bit overwhelmed by it all but I stuck it out if only to follow the story to its conclusion.

James Levine provides a very creepy score that envelops us and the photography by John Aronson and Micheal Goi is finely crafted and they take advantage of natural light to make the mansion look deadly and the actors very malicious. So much happens in the duration of season one that by the 12th episode’s end I felt like I ran a marathon. I feel that the show at a steady pace benefited well, but at warp-speed we lost connection with all the various characters. I almost needed a flow chart sometimes. I do recommend watching perhaps the last three or four episodes before Asylum begins, just to get connected again. American Horror Story may get better this next season. I do admit re-visiting some of the scarier episodes had me wanting more… just not that much more.

Victor

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About Victor De Leon

I'm Vic De Leon, I run Vic's Movie Den. I'm a hubby, a dad an a total movie geek. Love discussing film, TV, literature, tech, comics and more. Mi Den es su Den. Let's talk flicks!
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