Thursday, October 18, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 18 -- And the Cautiously Optimistic Award for Most (Seemingly) Improved Series Goes To: A Review of the Premiere of "American Horror Story: Asylum"

As explored in yesterday's review,  my feelings towards the first season of American Horror Story were rather mixed, and yet I still remained intrigued about the radical shift in stories for the second season.  And, despite the fact that the cold open of the premiere of American Horror Story: Asylum was so jarringly edited that it made most music videos look like Alfred Hitchcock's Rope and the inclusion of over-the-top sexually suggestive sequences, once the end credits rolled, I had to admit that I had thoroughly enjoyed it.

This seasons storyline is centered not on a haunted house, but on an insane asylum owned by the Catholic church which operates on the idea that all insanity is just people's sin nature running away with them, so there's no need for that psychology nonsense, just some good old fashioned prayer -- mixed in with a bit of punishment.  Once again Jessica Lange steals the show, albeit with a very different character.  Her Sister Jude is a true believer, except she seems to place her faith more in her monsignor (played by Joseph Fiennes) than in the Lord.  In the premiere her iron grip on the asylum is challenged by a creepy non-believing doctor (James Cromwell) who's performing some nasty experiments, and  a nosy reporter (the always excellent Sarah Paulson) who is hoping to get a scoop on the asylum's latest inmate, a suspected serial killer (Evan Peters) who has been assigned the all-too unfortunate sobriquet of "Bloody Face."

The reveal of the name Bloody Face was my first eye-rolling moment of the show; coming up with an appropriate name for your villain is doubtless a difficult task, but this probably homage to Leatherface just feels awkward every time it's mentioned in the show. However, when we finally get a glimpse of Bloody Face in full bloody-skin mask, I decided I could overlook the poor name when the accompanying visual was so powerfully disturbing. 

The show still has a bit of an overstuffed feeling, but it's not anywhere near the handicap now that it was due to the nature of the season's plots.  In season 1, it was ghost after ghost after ghost revealing themselves, a repetition that eroded interest even as the haunted house got more and more crowded.  But with season 2, each plot-line has a distinct stamp (alien abductions, serial killers, medical experiments gone awry, people wrongly imprisoned, an upcoming exorcism) that may lead to plot-overload-burnout, but probably not to boredom.

Although the show still struggles with restraint -- the violin sting when the doctor says "He died" was my second eye-rolling moment -- I have to admit that for many viewers that's part of it's appeal.  And as long as the show can entertain and disturb me the way this first episode did all season, I'm in for the long haul.

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