My TV habits historically stick with the four broadcast networks, I haven’t ventured far into cable dramas despite their critical acclaim. So American Horror Story is a new realm for me, and it’s still startling to hear strong language and see graphic violence in prime time. The shock wears off quickly when AHS reveals its demented side, which makes it my favorite new show of the season.
The premise is simple: Family moves across the country to reboot its marriage after a miscarriage and infidelity. Their realtor fulfills her legal obligation to tell the the previous owners died in their new house, but it doesn’t stop them from buying it. We’ve already been clued in by the opening sequence that there is more to this house than the previous owners being victims of a murder-suicide. The premier episode scrapes the surface of its haunted history, and terrifyingly so. I made the mistake of watching it at midnight, alone, and didn’t sleep for three hours.
But this isn’t a cookie cutter haunted house story, and that’s what makes AHS appealing and intriguing. Each show so far held at least one revelation that peels back another layer, giving the clear impression that there are many more layers left to discover. Indeed, that’s one of the main things that kept me interested. It would have been easy after the first episode to think, “Why don’t they just sell it and move somewhere else?” but the writers handle this in a deft and believable way that even manages to feed itself into the bigger plot.
Like Person of Interest, AHS features superb acting, this time from Jessica Lange. Lang plays the neighbor you know knows more than she tells you and mother of a child with Down Syndrome. The child brings the show’s first real haunting moments, but quickly pivots to a lovable character who you hope doesn’t fall victim to the mysteries surrounding her mom and the haunted house next door. Lange alternates between her character being an evil bitch and a loving mother with stunning ease. If you described her character on paper, I don’t now if anyone could reasonably expect any actress to make her work on screen. Lang succeeds, building a character that may rival Emerson’s legendary Ben Linus by the time her story is told.
The rest of the main characters are a tad thin, with the sense that their characters will be shaped more by the events that have yet to happen to them than those that already have. That’s compared to Lost, where each character’s actions were motivated by the events in their pasts. I would almost unquestionably wager that the Lost structure will produce better and more fulfilling story lines, but AHS has yet to suffer. There’s enough mysterious, frightening and downright disturbing material to keep you engaged so far.