October 05, 2011

TV: American Horror Story (FX, Wed 10)

Here's the latest from producer Ryan Murphy, and in some ways, it is weirdly reminiscent of Murphy's other current success, Glee. That is to say, it's an ambitious, overstuffed, tonally inconsistent, occasionally brilliant mess that throws everything at the wall in the hopes that something will stick.

Dylan McDermott and Connie Britton are Ben and Vivien Harmon, and their marriage has been under great strain; they lost a baby (stillborn at seven months), and a few months later, Vivien caught Ben in bed with one of his students. Now, a year later, they're moving to Los Angeles for a fresh start, and their new home has a lot of unpleasant history, including the murder-suicide deaths of the most recent occupants.

McDermott is a psychologist who's seeing patients in his home; among them is Tate (Evan Peters), a boy with violent fantasies. He quickly becomes friends with the Harmons' daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga), who's having problems settling into her new school.

Throw in the elderly maid (Frances Conroy) who Dan, and only Dan, sees as a hot young bombshell (Alexandra Breckinridge); the snoopy neighbor (Jessica Lange) who seems to have escaped from a bad Southern Gothic novel; and her daughter (Jamie Brewer), who has Down syndrome and a habit of telling everyone who moves in that "you're going to die in there," and you've got a wildly overheated mix of horror cliches.

The cast members seem to be acting in several different shows. Britton is doing realistic psychological dramas; Farmiga and Peters are straight out of 90210: Psych Ward; and Lange is camping it up like her life depends on it. Of all the shows on display, Lange's is the one I'd like to see more of; the delicious menace in her voice when she threatens Conroy ("Don't make me kill you again") had me giggling with delight.

But moments like that come far too rarely, and the show's utter inability to settle on one style or tone makes it a struggle to sit through. For horror aficionados and completists only, I'm afraid.

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