Instant reaction to 'American Horror Story,' from the creators of 'Glee': Eeeeek!

Glee producers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk screened their new October drama American Horror Story to TV critics at the Summer TV Press Tour in Los Angeles on Tuesday night. It stars Friday Night Lights‘ Connie Britton, The Practice‘s Dylan McDermott, Oscar-winner Jessica Lange, True Blood‘s Denis O’Hare, and a whole lotta screams, sex, jolts, mashed faces, psychotic behavior, and dead babies. If you have been wanting to hear the erstwhile Tami Taylor say, “I can be kinky,” this show may be for you. Then again, it may be the show that peels back your skull and makes you run bellowing from the room.

What follows is not a proper review, but some immediate reactions, reactions Murphy and Falchuk told the critics they welcomed, while calling their new creation a “psycho sexual thriller” and comparing it to movies such as Rosemary’s Baby and Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now. The series will premiere on Oct. 5 on FX.

• The show is about a family, the Harmons (Britton, McDermott, and their teen daughter, played by Taissa Farmiga) that buys a big, old house in Los Angeles that may be haunted and which was definitely the site of previous murders. It’s a troubled little family before they even move into Big Scary House: Britton’s Vivien caught McDermott’s Ben (a psychiatrist) boffing one of his students a while back, and they’re still working through their trust issues, as well as the trauma of Vivien having recently birthed a stillborn child, described as “a brutal miscarriage.”

• A housekeeper appears unbidden one day to say she’ll begin work at Big Scary House, as she has for previous (dead) owners. She’s played by Six Feet Under‘s Francis Conroy… most of the time. You see, when Vivien looks at the housekeeper, she sees nice, wrinkly Frances Conroy. When Ben looks at the housekeeper, he sees a hubba-hubba young woman in a sexy version of a maid’s uniform, snapping her garters at him and pushing her black bra up for his approval. Ben is possibly the most suggestible psychiatrist to ever try to work on his trust issues. We are supposed to think the house is making him have visions, as well as to sleep-walk. Or I think that’s what we’re supposed to think; one idea of the pilot is to throw the viewer off as to what’s real and what’s not, and constant shifts in point-of-view add to the confusion.

• Ben’s first patient in Big Scary House (he keeps office hours at home, kind of like Gabriel Byrne in In Treatment, but with blood running down the walls occasionally) is a psychotic teen-aged boy who wears a t-shirt that says “Normal People Scare Me.” He scares us normal viewers by rattling his head so violently it changes shape, he speaks in tongues, and commits at least one act of violence. Did I mention that daughter Violet has a mad crush on him?

• Ben and Vivien attempt to achieve their former intimacy by having some spontaneous, mildly rough sex. There’s also a scene in which Vivien may (or may not) have sex with Ben (or not-Ben) while he is attired in a head-to-toe leather bondage outfit. (This is when Britton utters the “I can be kinky” line — our Connie, she’s a plucky gal!)

• American Horror Story is much closer to what Murphy did on Nip/Tuck than what he does in Glee, which is to say, American Horror Story goes over-the-top with deliriously excessive behavior early on, and just keeps cranking up the weird. I get the Rosemary’s Baby comparison (spooky living quarters, babies as symbols of life, innocence, and life and innocence betrayed); and I know what the creators are getting at with their Don’t Look Now comparison (the 1973 thriller with Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie as a troubled married couple, death of a child, explicit-for-the-time sex, a shattered dream narrative).

I want to watch American Horror Story again — it’s crammed with details that require uncramming. At the very least, I can say with certainty that Ryan and Falchuk have upped the stakes (not a pun — blessedly, there’s not a vampire or a werewolf in sight) for TV horror. Unlike most scary TV shows (and movies), which rely upon the rhythm of a few quiet scenes followed by a boo! fright every 20 minutes or so, AHS is pretty much all-scare, all the time.

As I said, these are quick reactions. I fully expect American Horror Story to kick up the fuss that FX, Ryan, and Falchuk want. One more thing: There’s a general air of moral rot and emotional ugliness permeating AHS. This will have to prove exhilarating, rather than depressing, for the show to succeed.  If it wasn’t too clumsy to use, the most accurate title for this new show would be: The Opposite of Glee.

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Comments (80 total) Add your comment
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  • Bee

    CANNOT wait for this.

    • ST

      Ken, I think you meant Dylan McDermott, not Dyan…

  • gigity

    Sounds lame. I’ll stick with Supernatural.

    • cs

      Turned out to be a pretty WTF show, you should watch. I am a big supernatural fan too, so I think you will like this show.

  • dee123

    At least it’s different. People are always complaining there are too may Police, Doctor shows….

  • Woot

    So it will be good for 10 episodes than suck?

    • Woot

      *then

    • beeboop

      No, it’s “The Opposite of Glee.”

      • dave

        Sorrow?

    • Big Walt

      I’m willing to give it a chance but this is what I fear. Well this and bears.

      • Imam

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    • Edo

      There are certainly a lot of dtaiels like that to take into consideration. That is a great point to bring up. I offer the thoughts above as general inspiration but clearly there are questions like the one you bring up where the most important thing will be working in honest good faith. I don?t know if best practices have emerged around things like that, but I am sure that your job is clearly identified as a fair game. Both boys and girls feel the impact of just a moment’s pleasure, for the rest of their lives.

  • DavidSask

    Ryan Murphy will ruin the show after first season as he always does!!!!

    • Dave

      This is EXACTLY what I was thinking. Murphy is actually an excellent concept man, and he really knows how to start a series. However, he’s shown that he has no attention span (particularly for relationship pairs) and goes crazy with the extraneous stuff.

      • Captain

        The exact same thing can be said for Josh Schwartz. Try to sit through Season 2 of The OC or Gossip Girl.

    • kate middleton

      Exactly. It does sound interesting, but Ryan Murphy’s involvement makes me want to stay away.

      Seems like an odd choice for Connie Britton. LOVE her, and I think she deserves something amazing.

    • Tom

      Ryan Murphy is like a wet towel on any show he is in.

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  • Mike

    Hopefully Connie Britton will do the first three seasons then leave… as to ensure she doesnt get stuck on the sinking ship when it inevitably sinks.

    • cravingalife

      she’s only signed to do the first season (13 episodes). The point of the show is that if it is to continue into a 2nd/3rd season, the whole cast changes each season.

    • LJ

      I know someone who works at FX. The plan for this show is to have changing casts if the series lasts more than one season. Connie only signed a 1 year contract to do American Horror Story. She is also developing another pilot for FX with David O.Russell.

  • Fridge

    I’ll probably end up watching this show for a season and then Murphy will ruin it like he did with Nip/Tuck and Glee. The man can come up with some great, original ideas for shows, but he just can’t keep them going which is sad. Nip/Tuck was SO good and then it just went downhill. I’m keeping my fingers crossed he can work a miracle and save Glee, but I doubt it. Here’s hoping AHS is as awesome as it sounds.

    • Tom

      They are good at ruining decent tv aren’t they?

  • Wendy

    I wish Ryan Murphy would create TV mini-series…him & Brad could totally revitalize and rock the socks off that format. He’s got a knack for original concept and early execution, but then he gets distracted by a new concept or feels the need to constantly one-up himself and long-term serial storylines suffer. He’s like a fisherman with the most attractive lure but without the patience and tact to reel’em in.

    • Aprilcot26

      Now THIS is a great idea!

      • Tom

        Sock puppets is about his level of production.

  • Frank

    I think it’s funny that the sentiment from most of the posters above is exactly the same (and true): Murphy just can’t do long-term.

  • Dahlia

    What station will this be on? This does not sound like standard tv fare so I will tune in.

    • ML

      It will be on FX (stated in the article).

      • Tom

        None of the major networks would have touched this with a ten foot pole.

  • PDDB

    This sounds very interesting. Not sure how long this kind of story can be maintained in a serialized tv series.

  • Piper

    Well, the cast rocks! Where do O”Hare and Lange fit in?

  • Bee

    i’m not sure, but i thought i read that the show would have a different cast every season? or maybe that was some development back when it all started and now they’ve changed their minds.

  • PJ

    I agree with posters who point out that Ryan’s shows start out with intriguing and interesting concepts but go off the rails rather quickly. I watched both Glee and Nip/Tuck because they were original. I stopped watching because Ryan seems more interested in telling his stories through caricatures rather than fully-developed, engaging characters.

    • Tom

      That would require talent.

      • Tamoni

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  • Cass

    I think this sounds awesome =) there needs to be more horror based shows on TV. If I watch another hospital romance or police procedural I will freak out…

    • davey

      Ditto!

    • dave

      What they didn’t mention for some strange reason is that it is also a musical.

    • doatsy

      Really? It seems like there are quite a few horror based shows on TV.( vampires, werewolves, supernaturals etc)

      • IMM

        You forgot zombies

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