Entertainment Television

Review: 'American Horror Story' haunted by cliches, inconsistency

"American Horror Story" (9 p.m. Oct. 5, FX; 2 stars) reminds me of a car wreck: It's disturbing and macabre to stare as you drive past, but you just can't help yourself.
 
The new FX drama is moody, weird and shocking, but creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk populate the series with one-dimensional characters, pat story lines cribbed from myriad haunted house and slasher movies, some awful dialogue and a lot of naked Dylan McDermott.

McDermott's nudity is a good metaphor for the series: It's fun to look at, but there’s not a lot of substance underneath.
 
Murphy and Falchuk brought that same kind of empty theatricality to earlier projects, namely Fox’s “Glee,” and FX’s “Nip/Tuck.” After awhile though, the fantastically creepy sets and the quick-cut shooting style needs to be grounded in some sort of reality.
 
The story follows members of the troubled Harmon family, who move to L.A. after setbacks in Boston. Psychiatrist Ben (McDermott) has cheated on wife Vivien (Connie Britton) after she had a miscarriage. Sullen teen daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga) cuts herself and cuts off her parents as a result.
 
They move into a house haunted by all the people who have died there over the years. (You too will ask, “Would this house still be standing?”)

Looking after the place is housekeeper Moira, who to most people appears to be in her 60s (as played by Frances Conroy), but horny Ben sees her as a young, sexy woman (Alexandra Breckenridge).

Jessica Lange chews the scenery with some of the show’s most ominous lines (“I don’t want to have to kill you again”) as their stranger-than-strange neighbor, Constance. She has an equally weird daughter with Down’s Syndrome, Adelaide (Jamie Brewer), who likes to sneak into the Harmons’ house and tell them they’re going to die.
 
Throw in one of Ben’s patients, Tate (Evan Peters), who takes an interest in Violet and like Adelaide can inexplicably get into the house any time he wants; Denis O’Hare as a former resident of the place with half his face burned off; a pair of dead twins; jars full of baby parts; a gimp (you know, the dude in head-to-toe leather from the previews; a gnarly toothed something in the basement, and house full of ghosts…

You get the idea; there’s a whole lotta crazy here.

But not much consistency. Ryan and Murphy have said “AHS” is about infidelity and the dissolution of a marriage as seen through the prism of a horror story. They give us hints of that—the house might amplify the emotions of the people living in it—but then they randomly throw all manner of the bizarro at us without a clue as to how it relates to the Harmons.

Three episodes in and none of it makes much sense, which is too bad because “American Horror Story” could be a truly scary psychological thriller if the writers were as interested in their characters as they are in the insanity around them.

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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