Tuesday, November 27, 2012

TV Review: American Horror Story Season 1

Several of my friends have become enamored with American Horror Story: Asylum. As it is the second season of the show, I didn’t want to jump in without seeing the first, although seeing the first is apparently not necessary. American Horror Story has quite a unique concept, as it is a horror anthology show like no other. As opposed to your typical anthology show, where each episode stands alone, American Horror Story has each season stand alone. Every season is a stand-alone mini-series, featuring recurring actors and actresses in new roles. Despite this, I still refused to watch season two (Asylum) until I had a chance to view season one (Murder House).


The first season of American Horror Story is something I have very mixed feelings about. It seems to be a show that hopes to equally mix horror with drama, and sometimes it works but other times it doesn’t. The big problem for me was that it was the horror aspect that interested me the most. And with that said, the first few episodes do not disappoint. There are plenty of scary scenes to be found early in the series, and it was enough to grab my attention and pull me along for the ride. The horror falters though, and so did my interest in the show, a few episodes in. One reason is that in the beginning not much is known, but as the show goes on it attempts to lend answer to its many mysteries. The problem is that the “fear of the unknown” evaporates, and the horrors can be understood, which in many cases in the show leads to those horrors no longer being horrors. Also, as a longtime reader/viewer of horror, I have a pretty good imagination, so most of the time when these horrors are revealed I just felt disappointed (I’m looking at you man-in-the-rubber-suit and creature in the basement). 

The drama aspect of the show sometimes feels quite soap opera-ish, and as the horror fades and the drama takes the forefront, I just didn’t find the show to be nearly as interesting. Sure, some of the characters are interesting, but not too many are likeable. It’s hard to sympathize with the husband Ben, because he decided to cheat and brought many of his problems on himself. Violet is perhaps the most likeable member of the Harmon family, but as the troubled teenager she often seems too much of a stereotype.

Anyone who was a fan of LOST was most likely pulled into it because of the many mysteries. This show has quite a few of its own mysteries, but only one season to wrap them up. In this, the writers mostly do quite a good job, and many viewers would be pleased to have everything answered. I was still left for wanting, though, as I felt some questions were raised that seemed to be forgotten. Earlier on in the season, we see that new men in the household are awoken at night by whispering, and seem to follow the same pattern. They sleepwalk to the stove, turning on all the burners, as if seeking warmth, and then go light the fireplace. There’s obviously a dark force at work, affecting their behavior. Also throughout the series, a greater darkness within the house is hinted at, one that seems to generally affect certain characters behavior. As the show continues, we see all the former inhabitants, even as far back as the first family to live in the house. All of their stories are tragic, yet none really have that underlying evil. They are all simply flawed human beings. I found it disappointing that as the season went on, the individual spirits came to the forefront, and whatever “malevolent force” I was led to exist seemed to not matter anymore. The horror fiend in me found that to be quite disappointing.

One of the show’s concepts is that it wishes to convey horrors both supernatural and natural. The natural horrors being things we deal with in everyday life that are horrific or cause anxiety. This can be seen in a recurring theme throughout the season: infidelity. The entire reason the Harmon family moves into the house (and across the country) has to do with infidelity. Vivien gives birth to a stillborn, and a few months later finds her husband Ben cheating on her with one of his students. The show examines the after effects of such an event, and it’s quite evident that Ben’s infidelity has broken the entire family. The entire family is effected in many ways, the wife is distant, the daughter alienated. Ben struggles to keep it all under control. The Harmons are not the only ones suffering from the effects of infidelity, as the couple that lived in the house before them also suffered several problems dealing with cheating. Cheating is something that is a real fear for many. It’s also, unfortunately, something that seems quite common. I think it would be safe to say that anyone feeling their significant other might be cheating with someone else would feel fear and anxiety, so although there is nothing supernatural about infidelity, it is a real enough horror. Other real life fears are also explored throughout the show: school bullying, school shootings, physical danger at the hands of real psychopaths, fear of losing family, and the fear of being alone.

Random Highlights include:
-        Jessica Lange as Constance, the neighbor. Constance is crazy, and you never quite know what’s going on or what to expect with her. Lange plays the part to perfection, she was easily one of my favorite parts of the show.
-        The “cold opening” of the episodes. Every episode opened with a vignette from the past, adding another piece to the puzzle of Murder House. It worked very well to set up each episode.
-        The opening title sequence .
-        The maid – appearing young, sexy and seductive to men, and appearing old, unattractive and matronly to women.
-        Tate was a very interesting character, able to solicit sympathy in one scene and revulsion in others.
-        The “anthology series” concept.

All in all, I can’t recommend this to just anyone. If you’re looking for a horror with drama elements, move on. If you’re looking for a drama with horror elements, then you would enjoy this. As much as I loved the first few episodes, the show hit a point where I felt let down. I continued it, because I had to play it out, but I wasn’t nearly as interested as I was after the second or third episode.  I hear that season two is quite an improvement, and I really dig the concept of each season standing alone, so I just may give season two a chance.

No comments:

Post a Comment