Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 17 -- Yup, That Sure Was a Ryan Murphy Show: A Review of Season 1 of "American Horror Story"

I have a little bit of a love/hate relationship with Ryan Murphy's TV work.  I love the tendency towards hyper-stylized worlds, like Popular and Glee, but hate the inconsistency of character development . . . like Popular and Glee.  Restraint and subtlety have never been Murphy's strong suits, and this was never so obvious as in the first season of American Horror Story.

Even before the series began, it showed promise through some intriguingly creepy promos, but at the same time the inclusion of a rubber suited man set off a few warning bells that the show might venture into the psycho-sexual territory that dragged down Nip/Tuck over time.  If only that had been the show's only issue.

The series centered on a dysfunctional family's move to a house that proves to be haunted by a multitude of ghosts, each of whom died while on the property.  While that concept might sound interesting in theory, in practice it lead to a muddled mess of a show; the overstuffed haunted house held little in the way of real scares or even creepiness, with the reveal of each spirit being a game of diminishing returns.  Add onto that the fact that the majority of the characters had no redeeming qualities, and you have a show that squandered its potential.

And yet, despite some obvious misfires, there was a kernel of a good show buried there.  The idea of Francis Conroy's spirit being viewed differently by different people was an interesting one, and some of the flashbacks to explain how the spirits met their fate were well executed. But in the end, not even some knockout performances from Jessica Lange (who won an Emmy for the role) and Connie Briton could fully redeem the show for me. 

But, in keeping with my complicated relationship with Ryan Murphy's output, I am actually looking forward to tonight's premiere of the second season.  Partly because they have decided to turn the show into a series of mini-series, so that each season is totally divorced from the plot of the one before it, which means that one of the biggest problem with the first season -- the overstuffed house -- has been jettisoned, and partly because they have kept several of the actors from the first season and plugged them into totally new roles.  Looking forward to seeing what Jessica Lange and Sarah Paulson (yay! Sarah Paulson!) get to do.  So, be sure to check back tomorrow to see my thoughts on the first episode of American Horror Story: Asylum.

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