American Horror Story.
Connie Britton stars in FX's new nutty pilot,
Connie Britton stars in FX's new nutty pilot, American Horror Story. Robert Zuckerman/FX
Tuesday night, FX trucked buses of TV critics out to a screening of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk's new fall show, American Horror Story. Not for this show the advance DVDs or the streaming of screeners on your little computer. They told us it was because the DVDs weren't done, and perhaps that's true, but it's certainly a happy accident that this over-the-top crazyfest wound up being shown to us in a theater.
I'll have a final review closer to its October premiere, but they said they welcomed initial reactions, so let me say this: American Horror Story is emphatically not for everybody. It's a genre piece, it's very campy, and a significant number of critics in the theater with me didn't like it at all.
I, on the other hand, did.
It tells the story of the Harmon family: Vivien (Connie Britton) and Ben (Dylan McDermott) and their teenage daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga). They've got plenty of family problems, but their newest one is that they have moved into a straight-up haunted house. And it's not pleasantly haunted by friendly ghosts that look like Casper, either. It's haunted by demon-y looking things, and it may possibly cause you to hallucinate, and it has a history of not just spooking but downright ... well, devouring the people who live in it.
Great value, though. Nothing like it on the market!
There is so much going on in the first supersized episode that I wouldn't list it all even if there weren't spoiler problems. Suffice it to say it's got everything from a creepy neighbor (a fantastically wackadoodle Jessica Lange floating in and out) to a creepy maid (Frances Conroy) to creepy things in jars. Jars, I tell you!
I have no idea whether Murphy and Falchuk (two of the creators of the equally over-the-top Glee) have any idea how to keep this going. It will be very hard to maintain the frenetic pace of the pilot in terms of new spookings every minute or so, and there are so many things going on that are just weird that it will be equally hard to prevent the story from accumulating a million questions that fans will ask over and over again and never have answers for.
Several of the folks I talked to last night were talking about what utter sensory overload it was, and I can't argue with that. It's very, very over-the-top, but I also found it wildly entertaining. It utterly polarized the folks I had dinner with afterwards (this would have been a great screening for anyone who thinks critics can't think for themselves), but my reaction was that its biggest challenge may be that it's taken on far too much — that its ambition is destined to exceed its capabilities.
But after sitting through a lot of panel presentations in the last week, I have to say that a show where my biggest worry is that they're being too ambitious is a welcome change.
In short: This show is flat-out keeeee-razy. I liked it.