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'American Horror Story' gruesome and kinky, is like no other TV before

November 1st, 2011 1:02 pm by Associated Press

'American Horror Story' gruesome and kinky, is like no other TV before

Ryan Murphy, right, co-creator and executive producer of "American Horror Story," poses with cast members Dylan McDermott, left, and Jessica Lange at the premiere of the FX television series, Monday, Oct. 3, 2011, in Los Angeles. The first episode of the

Believe it or not, the title of FX's new series, "American Horror Story," is actually an understatement.

Grotesque, terrifying, brutal, and kinky, "American Horror Story" makes "The Shining" look like "The Waltons."

"It's really amazing to me that this is on television and not on film," says horror expert Marina Levina, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Memphis. "I've been really surprised at how far they've been able to take things. In the first episode, they killed children, which is shocking."

The plot revolves around the Harmons, a fractured couple (Dylan McDermott and Connie Britton) who move with their teenage daughter (Taissa Farmiga) to Los Angeles for a fresh start.

Turns out they got a good price on that rambling Victorian for a reason: It's the featured stop on a popular "Murder Tour" in the City of Angels.

The real estate agent didn't see fit to tell the Harmons that everyone who has ever lived there met a violent end. They had to find that out from the spooky Blanche DuBois-type who lives next door (Jessica Lange).

With the housing market in the dumps, the Harmons can't unload their chamber of horrors.

Soon they're besieged by the emotionally disturbed, the developmentally disabled, the physically disfigured, and other creatures who defy explanation.

There is, for example, a figure sheathed head to toe in a shiny black bondage suit. We're pretty sure he/ it has impregnated Mrs. Harmon. Don't even get us started on the hideous monstrosity in the basement.

Even the most benign-seeming characters carry wickedly toxic luggage. And in this vile villa, it's impossible to tell the living from the dead, the haunted from the haunting.

The series carries a "mature audiences only" rating, and each episode carries an additional warning for two or more of the following: indecent language, explicit sexual activity and graphic violence.

Faced with this sick spectacle, viewers have two options: shield their eyes and reach for the remote, or fasten their seatbelts. Increasingly they are harnessing down for the ride.

Last week's episode, the first of a two-part Halloween extravaganza (the conclusion is Wednesday night), saw viewership jump 15 percent to 3 million.

Precisely what is it that they're experiencing in this series produced by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk?

"It's all the horror of being in a relationship and being in a family and being in a marriage," says "AHS" star McDermott. "It's a metaphor."

Hmm, interesting theory. Anyone else?

"It's the haunted-house genre taken to an extreme," ventures Levina. "Everything is coming at them from inside the house. It's terror internalized.

"We've seen these type of stories in films since 9/ 11. We're living with terror that you simply can't solve, in an America where things are going terribly wrong."

If you have the stomach for it, "American Horror Story" works pretty well as pure entertainment. (On Monday, FX gave "AHS" an early renewal for next season.)

"It's a very well-done, even innovative way to tell a scary story on TV," says Ken Tucker, editor at large at Entertainment Weekly and former TV critic at The Philadelphia Inquirer, via e-mail. "On the other hand, it's one of the creepiest, most depressing shows to come along since "The Real Housewives of New Jersey."

"Jessica Lange has the tone down best, and when Jessica Lange is your barometer of emoting, you know the show might go over the top at any moment."

Over-the-top is the specialty of the house for producer Murphy. His TV creations have veered from the catty and funny high school soap "Popular" to the emphatically outrageous adult plastic surgery drama "Nip/ Tuck" to the high school show choir sensation "Glee" to the gnarly, envelope-tearing "American Horror Story."

Not an easy guy to pigeonhole.

"Ryan gets bored easily," says Dylan Walsh, who starred in "Nip/ Tuck." ''Before he's done, he will have created some of the most unforgettable series in TV history. And they'll all be different."

Calling "American Horror Story" ''different" — that's definitely an understatement.

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