Friday, October 7, 2011

American Horror Story: Premiere

Ugh. I’m pretty sure after watching the first episode, I made a mistake devoting any time to recapping this show. However, because I have an obligation to you, the reader, I will forge ahead. No matter how stupid this show gets.

The beginning starts off great…the show is rated MA LSV. For the acronym challenged, an ominous voice further clarifies stating this program will contain “Language, sexual situations, and violence. Having not really committed to any FX shows (Feel free to insult me in the comments all you Shield, Damages, Justified and Sons of Anarchy fans), I’m not sure what this implies. But I’m mildly excited by the potential. This will not be an episode of Whitney.

We start in 1978. How do I know? Because a black screen with white text and a crazily serifed font tells me so. A little girl stands outside a lovely yet decrepit house somewhere. She turns and shows the audience that she has down syndrome. A pair of twins sidle up to the house presumably heading inside. Down syndrome girl warns them by telling them they are going to die. They go in anyway.

This scene has pretty much confirmed my “Always heed a warning uttered by a girl with down syndrome” rule as being a good one to follow. Unfortunately, the twins don’t share my sentiments. They go inside…

And start smashing stuff with their bats. After that fun is over, they stumble upon a rodent of some sort. It seemed comically large to be a rat, but not quite distinct enough to be a possum. I spent way too much time trying to figure out what it was. Anyway, it had a crazy amount of blood pouring from a wound in its head, but it also seemed to be breathing. Mechanically, almost. I’m not sure we were supposed to take something away from its weird breathing, or it was just bad animatronics. The way the rest of the show went, I don’t think it’s going to come into play again.

What better way to celebrate a finding a not really dead rodent than to head down into the basement of an old abandoned house? Which is exactly what the twins decide to do.

Now, I understand that the desire to smash things in an abandoned house is an itch few preteen boys would ignore. I get that. My problem is that these twins seems a little too ignorant of the history of the house. Children in any neighborhood are going to gossip about the tales of murder and woe of any house around them. Even if it’s not true, a creepy looking house will have a story made up about it. And the kids will tread lightly around it. That’s not to say they won’t dare one another to go inside – but to traipse in willy niilly like these two did seems a tad implausible.

Regardless, we head down into the basement with them, where we find a number of specimen jars holding weird things. The weirdest? A baby’s head. This mildly freaks the two boys out (And when I say mildly, I mean neither runs out screaming), and then they die a horrible death. You might think I skipped over some stuff, but really, that’s pretty much exactly what happens.

So now we know there’s some weird shit going on in that house.

Present day…

In what I can only imagine is an homage to Nip/Tuck (the creators of AHS also created that show) we start off in a gynecology exam. The doctor and patient are going back and forth about some hormonal treatment designed to make her look ten years younger. She balks at first, but c’mon – if you don’t think these hormones are going to play a part in this show at some point, you’re crazy. She takes the prescription. Vivian leaves, heads home, and hears something in her house. Assuming its an intruder she calls 911 before grabbing a knife and heading upstairs to check it out. And if you think I’m going to fast, you’re wring – this is the pace of the show. And before you get used to it, it gets faster. And weirder. And worse.

She finds her husband home, and the only intrusion is him intruding another woman’s sey parts. She gets made enough to take a swipe at him with the knife, cutting his arm. Then we’re treated to some Nine Inch Nail inspired opening credits.

Back from the credits we’re treated to the interior of the car, holding Vivian and Ben (the two who just a moment ago were a blade away from a monkey knife fight), their teenaged daughter Violet, and a dog (in its own car seat and I hate them all already for this simple fact), driving down a Los Angeles highway. Definitely much chummier than we last saw them, though Ben’s hand holding is rebuffed by Vivian. So it seems they’re trying to work it out…with mixed results.

It seems the family is looking to move to Los Angeles, in order to start fresh and get away from the bad memories (and sexy times!) of back east. And what better way to do that then buy a really creepy house? As a realtor goes on and on about how gorgeous the house is, she also states that she has to tell them about the murders of the previous owners that happened in the house. A murder suicide. While she’s doing that, the dog goes off, and starts barking at a door. The basement door. Violet, being a misunderstood, angsty teen explores a bit, likes what she sees (no the specimen jars are gone) comes back and proclaims to everyone, “We’ll take it.” Who knew she was the decision maker in the household? The realtor smiles, relieved she got these suckers to buy a haunted house.

Cut to: (and really, I hate to use the term “cut to” as transitions between things, but in this show? It’s totally appropriate) Violet having a run-in with the Mean Girls at her new school. In a twist, it is they who are aghast at Violet’s smoking. This scene is played off in such a campy way, you start to think American Horror Story might be a comedy?

But that thought is eliminated once we get back to the house and focus on Down syndrome girl (now all grown up) as she wanders into the house spouting her now, “you’re gonna die,” spiel (hoping she’s got a trademark on that) before her mom Constance (or Jessica Lange) heads into the house. She appropriately and dutifully gives us her complete backstory. Thank god we don’t have to see that subtly filled out in future episodes. Nuance is the enemy here! To further move the plot along (what faster then breakneck? Breaknecker?) she gives Vivian a housewarming gift of sage. Telegraph much? Vivian still uses it.

As Vivian is burning the sage around her house, (because even though we are led to believe Vivian thinks Constance is a nut, we have to also show Vivian might believe the house is haunted?) she sees the drawstring that leads up to the attic, so of course we’re going exploring! And what do we find up there? A black rubber S&M suit of course. Ben is psyched; Vivian not so much. We see Ben throwing it away. At night, but don’t you dare for one second believe this show has any basis in chronological order. Or logical order. Or logic.

Cut to: A teenager speaking with Ben (I guess I forgot to mention this earlier; Ben is a psychiatrist, and he has a home office. See, this is just like Growing Pains, but with homicidal rage and down syndrome sprinkled in) about how he wants to go Columbine on his friends. We see his fantasies as he describes them to Ben. But Ben is one of those cool psychiatrists, who doesn’t tell the dude he’s crazy, but that’s he’s normal!

Cut to: The teen patient walking in on Violet in the bathroom as she half-heartedly toys with some light suicide. He explains to her the best way to do it (vertical cuts dummy!) Violet, of course swoons over the boy and his ghastly knowledge.

Cut to: Ben walking around the house, starting a fire in the fireplace (naked) and honestly, who has a fireplace prepared to blaze right up when you throw a match at it? I mean, I guess it could be a gas fireplace, but still… it went right up. Vivian finds him and asks what he’s doing. “I’m buying a dream.” At least that’s what I think he said. I have the show DVR’ed and I could have rewound, but yeah…

Oh hey look, it’s the mom from Six Feet Under! She shows up as Vivian is outside hanging laundry and tells her she’s the housekeeper. They verbally spar over some cleaning tips before going inside to talk about the history of the house over some tea. Why not?

Ben wanders in the kitchen and is introduced to the housekeeper. But what he sees is a red headed sexpot housekeeper – basically the fetish version. She leaves and Vivian tells Ben she wants to hire her. Horndog that he is, Ben, completely shocked that the woman he cheated on would hire such a sexpot, not knowing his wife sees her as the mom from Six Feet Under readily agrees, all while eating a banana (I wish I made that last part up).

Ben then goes and has another session with crazy teenager. He’s trying to figure out if he’s a danger to his fellow classmates. Shockingly, the reveal is that he’s now “seeing” Ben’s daughter.

Cut to: Ben finding Crazy Teen together with his daughter and rightfully tries to put a stop to it, which I assume will happen and nothing terrible and horrifying will come of this union.

Cut to: Ben walking in on the sexy housekeeper playing with herself. Because what’s a show without an awesome masturbation scene? And how do you make an awesome masturbation scene better? You have Ben run out, go into another room, strip down and shame masturbate. What is shame masturbate, you ask? Well, and I’m guessing here, it’s when a guy can’t help himself from getting turned on by someone after you have cheated on your spouse.

Not sure if he finished or not, but he peeks out a window (and yeah, I thought it was a little odd that he was standing in front of a window to masturbate, but who am I to judge?) and sees a well dressed man with half of a melted face standing in his yard. And I don’t care who you are, that is going to harsh an erection.

Vivian, possibly downstairs the entire time, or possible this is another day, walks into the kitchen and sees a mess. She wanders around and finds the down syndrome woman. Oh and we get a quick shot of the now bloody twins. In case you forgot about them.

Vivian and Ben confront the down syndrome woman (I want to say her name is Adelaide) and her mom about coming into the house. It doesn’t go great. The dog bites Adelaide on the way out. Jessica Lange threatens Vivian. You know, typical neighbor stuff when you live in a haunted house.

Cut to: Ben on the phone attempting to report his crazypants patient. And of all the times for hes sexy housekeeper to decide to clean the study. I love her excuse after Ben tells her it’s not the greatest time. “Well if I don’t do it now, it won’t get done until next week when I come back.” As if the study was filthy to begin with. Unfortunately for Ben, it seems cleaning wasn’t her primary motive as she starts talking about how she saw him walk in on her private fun time session, and then asks him if he ran away and touched himself. It’s like she’s a clairvoyant! Or a ghost or something. She’s saying all this as she slowly straddles Ben. But then here comes Violet to spoil all the fun! She walks in on the two of them, seeing the maid as the mom from Six Feet Under, which probably further skeeves her out.

Cut to: a music video montage of Violet getting beat up at school.

Cut to: Ben coming into help Vivian take some wallpaper down that was covering up some lovely demon murals. Because what better way to lighten up the décor of your house with depictions of demons eating the souls of the damned?

Ben, either fresh off the sexual taunts of the maid, or just getting turned on by demonic violence to humanity, decides to get frisky with Vivian, but she rebuffs him, which leads into a huge fight. And if I told you I didn’t see sex coming at the end of this as soon as it started, I’d be lying. It was telegraphed a bit. A lot comes out here. Stuff about a miscarriage, stuff about the dog being a crutch, the person Ben slept with was his student…it was nicely acted by these two, except…it just felt forced, and once again a lot to swallow in episode one. Anyway, we get to sexy time.

Cut to: Violet walking in to the kitchen, attempting to hide her bruises from the fight. Mom sees through it though, and the two have a heart to heart. And I’m not sure why Violet never brought up how she walked in on the housekeeper and her dad. Maybe she just doesn’t care anymore. You know, like the audience.

Cut to: Violet and crazypants concocting a plan to get back at the mean girl who beat her up. The plan involves Violet telling her she is a drug dealer (because somehow they come to the conclusion this girl is a coke head) and getting her to come to Violet’s house, where Crazypants will wait in the basement and scare her. Ok, I’m not an expert on the current social trends of high school girls, but this might possibly be the worst plan I’ve ever heard.

Cut to: Vivian getting ready for bed…and the guy in the rubber suit appears. Mistaking him for Ben (and we know this because Ben is downstairs trying to light his hand on fire with the gaslit stove. Duh.) Vivian is totally up for round 2. And may I say, lord knows what their sex life was like before the house if this didn’t make her question anything. Cut between the thrusts of sex of these two is Jessica Lange telling Ben it’s not his time to die yet – as she leads him away from the stove. And the sex scene is also played slightly weird – not really sure if Vivian was into it or not. The ambiguity of it all was slightly confusing.

Cut to: Violet and Crazypants plan in action. Mean Girl is being led down into the basement as Violet is giving her this crazy story about how she gets the coke. What a poorly written scene. For instance, why would the Mean Girl be in the basement looking around for the coke as Violet stood behind her? Anyway, she walks into a room and sees Crazypants sitting on a chair. Violet hits the lights and then Crazypants attacks. It turns into a series of strobe cuts that also involve a demonic creature that scratches mean girl Violet screams a bunch, turns the lights on, Mean Girl runs out, Violet says she never wants to see Crazypants again, and scene. That went about as well as it could have.

Cut to: Ben running, possibly to stay in shape for all the sex he’s planning. Someone is following him in an old car. It’s melted face guy! And he comes with a warning! Ben’s family is in danger. You see, melted face guy is a convict. He used to live in the house, but he killed his family, because the voices told him to. He burned them all. Which at least explains his burns. Now, before you start questioning why he’s not in jail, there’s a very plausible answer: he has brain cancer, so they let him out. Obviously. Ben does threaten to put him in an asylum before telling him to leave him alone. I guess brain cancer can’t keep you out of a state sponsored hospital for the insane?

Cut to Jessica Lange trying to steal some diamond earrings from Vivian’s jewelry box. She would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for that meddling housekeeper. 6 Feet Under Mom walks in on her and tells her to put the earrings back. Jessica Lange, embarrassed for getting caught in the act can only retort, “Don’t make me kill you again!” which is exactly what I say to my wife when she catches me taking 3 cookies instead of my allotted two.

Vivian comes home and tells Ben she’s pregnant. Because there wasn’t enough for us to follow. And that’s the end of episode one.

So there you have it…a complete mess that at times tries to play straight and camp and fails at both. It’s a shame too, because I like all the principle actors and thought going into the show there was a lot of potential. But horror is tricky, because to be effective there needs to be a build up and then a payoff. And all we’re getting here are payoffs. Without the build up there’s no emotional investment.

I imagine the housekeeper, teenager and crazy teenager patient are ghosts in the house. They weren’t seen anywhere else in the episode. The melted face man was scene outside, so I assume he’s not a ghost. No idea who the black rubber suit guy is. I assume that will be a mystery to follow along with Vivian’s pregnancy. I’ll stick with this show I guess, but it will be hard. The pace at which it moves is ridiculous, as is the cutting and intertwining of stories. It’s extremely difficult to follow the timeline, and know what might be real and might be a dream. I understand that in horror, that can be effective, but you still need to establish the rules before you can go off breaking them. So far it seems American Horror Story has no rules.

But that’s just one guy’s opinion. Anyone else want to share their thoughts?


tera said...

Yah....I got through the first episode but deleted the series recording I had set up on the DVR. A little too out there and a lot too hard to follow. Plus I found I didn't like any of the characters. It has promise, but I think they missed the mark. said...

This cannot work in fact, that is what I consider.