Help me decide. Do I like American Horror Story?
I caught up last night with the first two episodes of American Horror Story. So strong were my simultaneous positive and negative reactions, I stand at a loss as to how to evaluate it. I will say this: It has stuck with me. Every few hours, I find myself googling it, I suppose hoping some uber-blogger will provide a magical insight that helps me process what I’ve seen. No such luck.
Here’s the gist: In the aftermath of a miscarriage, a husband cheats on his wife. In attempt to reconcile, they move with their teenage daughter from Boston to Los Angeles… and into a Murder House. It has literal demons to compliment their metaphorical ones.
The horror is overblown, and derivative… and compelling. An episode of AHS tastes like a slice from a cake baked from ingredients borrowed from LOST, Scream, Twin Peaks, and True Blood (the twisting-your-partner’s-head-180-on-her-torso-as-you-sex-her-while-covered-in-blood True Blood.)
Plus, there’s an Extra Ingredient that several reviews have called “psychosexual,” but which you wouldn’t be wrong in labeling “f-ed up.” You’ve seen sexually threatening ghost-demons before, and you’ve even seen sexually threatening ghost-demons reproducing with humans, but you’ve never seen sexually threatening ghost-demons reproducing with humans while sporting a latex bondage gimp suit.
It’s too light a word to suggest AHS pays homage to numerous classic films. (The score doesn’t just borrow from that of Psycho; they actually licensed the score from Psycho.) So unabashed is the willingness to mooch from this and that horror movie, and so stong is that f-ed-up Extra Ingredient being added to the recipe, the result somehow comes out feeling new. I guess I don’t care if the ghost story I’m hearing at the camp fire is unoriginal, as long as its being well told.
So that’s what’s bothering me. Is this being well told? Or is it a rehash of everything we’ve seen before, with lots of Extra Ingredient splashed throughout? On one hand, I’m drawn to this show because it’s unlike anything I’ve seen (which is different that calling it original) and I’m excited any time television can offer something new. Then again, I worry for our society when we’re all so overexposed to storytelling that depravity is the only direction left to explore. In a world with so many channels that one must shock to stand out, Extra Ingredient can be applied too liberally, blurring the lines between trash, art, and porn. This morning, Entertainment Weekly gave Human Centipede 2 a B+.
The obvious question is whether the writers can sustain horror-movie tension episode after episode. And even more in doubt is whether a satisfying conclusion can be reached. After the blue balls served up by the finale of LOST, are we willing to tolerate being manipulated by AHS?
The creators, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck, also created Glee together, and Murphy was behind Nip/Tuck. It’s too early to draw conclusions about AHS, but there are commonalities between the other two shows–no matter how different they are otherwise–that might provide hints in what we can expect here. Both Glee and Nip/Tuck fill their worlds with largely unlikable characters. Or, at least, those characters can turn on a dime to become unlikable, as long as it serves the tension of a scene. Exposition and story logic will be tolerated only if they don’t get in the way of the sensational bits. Camp is to be embraced, and premises are heavy-handedly stretched to their logical extremes. Character consistency will be happily thrown to the wind if it can set up a song or a surgery, or, I’m guessing, a ghost going boo.
All of which leaves me fearing I will have the same relationship with American Horror Story that I do with Nip/Tuck and Glee: after each episode, I’ll curse myself for having wasted another hour, swear that I’m done with the show for good this time, and tune in the following week.