If the name of your television show is American Horror Story, you really better live up to the horror part, right? Luckily, in the case of the Ryan Murphy produced series of the same name, which debut last week on FX in the US, we wind up with a fair amount of scariness in front of our eyes.
It was close though; as I tweeted within the first 20 minutes or so of watching the series premiere, I wasn’t totally sold on the horror aspect of the whole story, which is fairly conventional when it comes to the genre. Husband and wife Ben (Dylan McDermott) and Vivien (Connie Britton) Harmon move from Boston to Los Angeles with their daughter Violet (Taissa Farmigga) after Vivien suffers a late term miscarriage and Ben has an affair with one of their students. Of course, wouldn’t you know it, the old, large house they get a deal on just happens to be haunted.
Standard stuff, right? When it starts off, that’s how American Horror Story felt to me, at least. But, as the episode progressed and we’re introduced to our larger cast of characters (Jessica Lange as next door neighbour and Southern belle Constance, house keeper Moira, who is portrayed as an older version and a younger, sexier version, depending on who happens to be looking at her), I had to admit there was some very spooky stuff going on in the series. While I never really jumped while watching, I did have a feeling of uneasiness, which is exactly what you want out of a show like this.
The failing marriage is also a standard part of a horror story, but McDermott and Britton play their husband and wife characters as anything but cliche. Watching them fight back and forth as they try and sort themselves out, you hope that they’ll make it work. But its clear right away that the house they’re living in has other ideas for them.
Because American Horror Story is on FX, the series doesn’t have the boundaries of network television. That means, lots of cursing, nudity (so far entailing Dylan McDermott’s bare butt) and sexuality (how many other tv shows have you watched lately where not one, but two character are shown masturbating?). It also means the show can likely be far scarier than anything else around on television right now. Quick edits, horrific images glimpsed for but a moment, a ghost pimped out in a leather bondage outfit – it’s all there, and makes for a creepy viewing experience.
It looks as though American Horror Story wants to be a balls-to-the-wall scarefest. But like the best films and shows that had similar aspirations, it’s taking its time to get us to that place. Luckily, I’m significantly intrigued to turn the lights down and see what happens next.
American Horror Story airs Wednesday nights at 10 on FX.