American Horror Story, Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”

by Alex Greenberger

Perhaps you’ve heard of a little show called “Glee?” This show, the ultra-successful musical TV show about high school students dealing with adolescence comes from the mind of Ryan Murphy. Now, with Glee co-writer Brad Falchuk, he has created FX’s newest dramatic series, “American Horror Story.”  But don’t expect sexuality crises and baroque musical numbers here.  Instead, expect severed and bottled baby limbs and a ghost that takes the form of a kinky dominatrix.  It’s an odd show indeed.

“American Horror Story” is a bizarre little treat: it’s a horror show that is actually really creepy.  The new show is just about as weird as television gets (even the pilot’s runtime is odd at 71 minutes), and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Murphy and Falchuk’s show is an intelligent, erotic horror story that works. It’s a rarity for TV and for its genre.

The strangest thing about this show is the plot itself.  The Harmonds, a dysfunctional family of three, moves to a beautiful gothic house in Los Angeles after Vivien, the matriarch played by Connie Britton, finds Ben, her husband played by Dylan McDermott, in an affair.  Violet, the daughter played by Taissa Farmiga, has some problems of her own—she cuts herself.  And to add to the mess, the new home is the site of a murder-suicide and host to several ghosts, from a duplicitous cleaning lady to a Muppet-like ghoul that lives in the basement.

“American Horror Story” is what might have happened if David Lynch and David Cronenberg got together and directed a remake of “American Beauty.”  There is almost too much disturbing imagery for words here.  The opening scene depicts a child being killed by an unknown assailant; the episode’s ending includes sex with ghosts.  Probably the best way to describe all this is “screwed up.”  Eroticism is so often combined with violence and domestic disturbances that it becomes unnerving rather than sexy.

Yet relentless oddity should not be equated with stupidity.  Murphy and Falchuk’s pilot has a few savvy movie allusions, and especially in places you wouldn’t really expect.  From what I caught, there were allusions to “Insidious,” “The Shining,” “Kill Bill: Vol. 1,” and “Vertigo,” to name a few, all in the first episode.  And while the show may be “offensive” in that it kills off a child in the first five minutes and includes two masturbation scenes, one involving a fully naked Dylan McDermott, the show is always tasteful.  It’s shocking, but grounded in deep thematic issues, so the grotesque imagery is not pointless.

Everything in “American Horror Story” is downright creepy.  The title credits, made by the same people who did the opening credits for David Fincher’s “Se7en,” is enough to sear images into its viewer’s brain.  They are not pleasant images either, but they are ones that demand an explanation.  Murphy and Falchuk’s pilot is a nasty little hour of television, but one that absolutely warrants watching another episode.  Where the show will go is a bit of a mystery at the moment, yet that’s not always bad.  “American Horror Story” is tricky, surreal, unusual, and graphic, and all in good ways.  Let’s see if it stays that way.

Alex Greenberger is a contributing writer. Email him at entertainment@nyunews.com

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