WARNING: This post refers to the entire 12-episode DVD set and includes moderate-to-major spoilers. If you wish to remain pure, read only after you watch!
Last night, I finished American Horror Story, season one. I had to clear my schedule and watch five consecutive hours of TV, but hey, I’m dedicated. Here’s the breakdown.
What It’s About:
The troubled Harmon family (Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton and Taissa Farmiga) arrives in sunny California to make a new start. Depressed mom Viv (Britton) is haunted by a devastating miscarriage, psychiatrist Ben (McDermott) is struggling to regain Viv’s trust after cheating on her with a student, and teenager Violet must contend with bullies at her new school. All this middle-class angst will eventually reach critical mass in a spooky old Victorian with an infamous past. In fact, Hollywood’s “Eternal Darkness” tour bills the Harmons’ new abode as the Murder House.
The acting is fabulous. Jessica Lange rightly won an Emmy for her portrayal of Constance, the Harmons’ vain, politically incorrect and occasionally murderous neighbor. Denis O’Hare, perhaps best known as the flamboyant Russell Edgington in HBO’s True Blood, is equally wonderful as Ben’s self-appointed helper, warning Ben about the dangers of living in Murder House. Plus we have some comic relief from Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family) and a wonderfully creepy, layered performance by Zachary Quinto (Star Trek) as one of the house’s many victims.
As you might expect, the story isn’t terribly realistic. This is gothic horror, full of melodramatic speeches, outrageous deaths and people choosing to reside in a supernatural deathtrap when anyone else would happily sleep in a homeless shelter. Nevertheless, the show is stylish, fun, and for the most part, it delivers. The most affecting sequences (a Columbine-style mass murder and a hit-and-run) pack a lot of punch. And even the weaker threads–the original owner’s “Frankenstein complex”–are mostly good fun.
What Doesn’t Work:
There are occasional lapses of internal logic. As a writer, I can’t help but suspect the show runners originally had a different idea for the identity of Rubber Man, then for whatever reason changed course around episode 7. Suddenly we’re told Larry had an adulterous relationship with Constance (inconsistent with Larry’s early scenes) and Tate murdered Chad and Patrick–and raped Viv– for the thinnest of reasons. I wonder if the show’s success compelled the writers to craft a new conclusion, one that would either satisfy the network or better prepare for season two?
My main gripe, however, is this: season one has enough material for eleven good episodes. Unfortunately, the series goes for twelve. Episode 12 is redundant, dull and runs completely counter to much of what has gone before. The dead Harmon family enjoys new happiness in the house, scaring away potential buyers ala the climax of Toy Story and celebrating a beautiful Christmas around the tree? Blah. Even the entirely predictable climax was just blah. You’d do better to quit watching on episode 11 and make up your own ending.