|Season Pass or Fail|
"American Horror Story" (Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX)
Watcher: Don Kaye
Make no mistake, we had our doubts about "American Horror Story." Our biggest concern, of course, was its creator: Ryan Murphy, the brains behind "Glee," one of the most witless shows we ever had the displeasure of watching. What could this maestro of such a sophomoric series bring to the horror genre (which, truth be told, has been flailing about in recent years on both the big and small screen)? The answer is that the same outsized energy that made "Glee" so exhausting ironically gives a jolt to "American Horror Story" that makes you forget you're watching a series that pulls from a literal haunted house's worth of genre cliches.
The show follows the Harmon family -- therapist Ben (Dylan McDermott), wife Vivien (Connie Britton) and daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga) -- who move from Boston to Los Angeles after Ben has an affair with a patient and Vivien has a miscarriage. They buy a huge old house that they only find out later is known as "the Murder House," due to its violent and depraved history. Naturally, many of the former occupants are still there -- in spirit, anyway.
The first thing to know about "American Horror Story" is that it's genuinely creepy. Murphy and co-creator Brad Falchuk have established a palpable sense of dread right from the show's first opening sequence (which usually flashes back to a murder that happened in the house) and unsettling main credits. Starting with that first episode, the show has piled on the shocks one after the other, with dead lovers, rotting corpses, grotesque experiments and a figure in head-to-toe black rubber appearing more regularly than station breaks.
The show frequently skirts a thin line between horror and camp -- most notably in Jessica Lange's tightrope performance as the madwoman next door -- and its manic energy threatens to make it implode every once in a while. One also wonders how long the Harmons can plausibly be kept in the house (we might have let the bank foreclose by now, credit be damned). Yet the cast is game, the scares are truly chilling, and the show does what this genre should: leaves one feeling distinctly uneasy. That in itself fills us with -- dare we say it? -- a wicked glee.