American Horror Story episode 1 review: Pilot

A new show that's as far removed from Glee as it's possible to get. Ron checks out the pilot episode of American Horror Story...

This review contains spoilers.

1.1 Pilot

These days, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk are best known as the creators behind the megahit, megaobnoxious Fox singalong sitcom Glee. But once upon a time they were also known for making some great, sick, and twisted television.

For example, did you know the guys who did Glee first made their bones by making Nip/Tuck? That’s right, once upon a time, Murphy and Falchuck did interesting, adult TV, rather than teenage crap for musical nerds. From what I can gather from the first episode of American Horror Show, Murphy and Falchuck have created a TV show that’s going to scare the pants off the Gleeks, assuming Dylan McDermott can keep his pants on for a whole episode.

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The Harmon family’s life is on the rocks. After a horrifying miscarriage, Vivien Harmon (Connie Britton) withdraws into herself to ease her pain. Her husband, therapist Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott), inserts himself into other women to ease his pain. Their daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga) acts out, gets into trouble at school, and has become a cutter and general troublemaker. The solution to these problems? Travel across the country to Los Angeles, move into a decaying old Victorian home, and watch the troubles melt away!

Except, of course, for the troubles with the house itself. As it turns out, there’s something a little off about the house, what with the history of murders within its walls, the creepy neighbor Constance (Jessica Lange) and her disturbing mentally handicapped daughter Addison, and the housekeeper Moira (Frances Conroy/Alex Breckinridge), who Viv sees as an older woman but Ben sees as a hot young sexpot. Considering the marital problems, that seems like a reasonable hallucination, albeit not a great hallucination for a psychiatrist to have.

Let’s just say that life for the Harmons isn’t going to be rosy in spite of their awesome new house.

The one thing that makes this show a step above a standard horror show is the acting. Connie Britton should’ve won an Emmy for Friday Night Lights, and from the way she handles her big argument with Dylan McDermott in the middle of this week’s episode, she may end up getting that honor for a little creepy show on FX. She gets a few tough scenes in this week’s episode, and she absolutely kills them. If the show can maintain this level of writing (this week’s episode is by Murphy and Falchuk themselves), then this is going to be a great programme, even without the psychosexual overtones, scares, and general creepy weirdness. McDermott holds his own, and I have to admit that Jessica Lange is really spectacular thus far in a delightfully amusing/cruel role.

The show itself is also incredibly stylish. The editing department deserves kudos for their use of asynchronous editing. Even in non-creepy scenes, the cuts are just slightly off so that only a few frames of film are missing, but it’s just enough not to be terribly obtrusive while still being unsettling. It’s not scary, per se, but it’s still off-putting and it’s a nice, subtle touch to keep the viewer off balance. The musical cues on the show, from the Kill Bill whistling to the Patience and Prudence version of Tonight You Belong To Me, are also an interesting touch.

American Horror Story won’t be for everyone, but it just might be for me. The premiere episode was so densely packed with stuff that I can’t wait for them to start unpacking it.

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Will they go for some kind of disassociate identity disorder angle? Will they go for straight-up ghosts? Will they find some combination of the two? Right now, I have absolutely no idea, but wherever they go, I’m looking forward to seeing just how they do it, provided it all stays interesting. Right now, I love all the weirdness and hallucinations I’m seeing on screen, but I have no idea about what’s really going on.

US correspondent Ron Hogan would gladly live in a ghost house if it was as awesome as the AHS mansion. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.