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TV Review: American Horror Story

daniel cohen looks at the much-talked-about FX series …

Plot: A troubled family of three moves to Los Angeles in order to start a new life. The house they purchase though has a past of murder and mystery.

There’s a bunch of weird hallucinations and dreams, people apparently come back to life, and there’s a plethora of spooky images that randomly flash onto the screen. Unfortunately, I’m not interested in learning about what any of these things are. American Horror Story is an entertaining enough pilot, but I think this would work better as a six episode mini-series and not a TV show. It throws a lot of stylish editing and shaky cam into the mix, but these gimmicks aren’t going to work for an entire series.

The acting is okay, and the characters are interesting, but ultimately unlikable. These aren’t people I want to follow week to week. Taissa Farmiga plays the classic sarcastic/cynical teenage daughter who just doesn’t fit in. She’s got a few good lines, like when the real estate agent tells the family the previous owners murdered each other, her response is ‘we’ll take it.’ Farmiga plays the role pretty well, but she was a little too mean spirited for my liking. Also, her first day at the new school was a little much. Seriously, less than fifteen seconds in, there’s already a bitchy girl (Shelby Young) giving her a hard time. It was way over the top as her acting pretty much consisted of a lot of yelling and screaming.

Some of the other characters are just strange. Jessica Lange plays Constance, the neighbor. She’s a detestable person, especially towards her daughter (Jamie Brewer) who’s inflicted with down-syndrome. Then there’s Tate (Evan Peters), a troubled teen who’s probably going to grow up to become a Batman villain. The performances are good, but these characters are just written in such an uncomfortable way. Sometimes that works in film and television, but the script seems like it’s going out of its way to make them unpleasant, and that really pissed me off.

My least favorite aspect to the show was Dylan McDermott’s performance as Ben Harmon, the patriarch of this family. Not only is his character a complete asshole, but the performance was terrible. McDermott’s tone was all over the place.

The one character you like, and the reason why I didn’t completely hate this pilot, was Vivien Harmon (Connie Britton), Ben’s wife. She’s recently been through a lot, and you empathize with her character as she deals with her jerk of a husband as well as all these odd characters that come into her life since moving to the new house.

Connie Britton is the highlight of FX's American Horror Story

But aside from the characters, this is called American Horror Story, so the ‘horror’ is certainly a key element. There are a couple well directed creepy scenes, most notably the opening, which takes place in 1978. It keeps you on edge, although I would have preferred the crappy and cliché music to have been cut, as I think it would have worked better in silence. Other than this scene though, it’s really lazy in terms of the scare factor. It’s just a bunch of dark strobe light effects with random scary faces thrown in, just not compelling at all. The opening credit sequence is kind of creepy, but it pissed me off because I couldn’t tell if I loved it or absolutely hated it.

There’s some funny dialogue, and a few entertaining elements, but I’m done with this show. With the exception of Vivien Harmon, the characters are way too unlikable. The ‘scares’ mostly stem from lazy gimmicks. And seriously, can you really write an entire series where all the mysteries stem from one house? It reminds me of the first Simpsons’ “Treehouse of Horror” story where the family moves into a creepy talking house where the walls bleed and it tries to have the Simpsons kill each other. That was a ten minute segment. There is no show here.

Rating: 5 out of 10 (Barely Passable Entertainment)

Daniel Cohen
Daniel Cohen
Daniel Cohen likes movies and bagels, and that’s pretty much it. Aside from writing Box Office predictions, Daniel hosts the monthly Batman by the Numbers Podcast on the Breakcast feed. Speaking of Batman, If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.


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