Unsolicited Endorsement: American Horror Story

I know I’m a little late in endorsing Ryan Murphy’s latest TV jaunt, this time into spooky, scary, Werewolf Bar Mitzvah-land. But I wanted the hoopla around the pilot to, uh, die down to see if the show–about a family that moves into a haunted house–could sustain itself past the bizarre kitchen sink stew that Murphy concocted in that first episode.

And by golly, it can. Halfway through the season, I still haven’t missed an episode. Next to ABC’s Revenge, American Horror Story is this year’s most addictive guilty pleasure. Even though the show regularly borrows from dozens of horror movie tropes, it still does something fresh with each one, seductively leading us down that grotesque basement staircase until it’s too late for us to escape. This show has elicited more WTFs out of me than Agador Spartacus’ Guatamalaness. (Plus, two of the show’s writers/producers used to write for The X-Files, so I’m contractually obligated to like it.)

And the show is fairly well-acted, with the exception of Dylan McDermott (Ben), who seems to only have one acting setting: as Bobby from The Practice. The stars here are easily Connie Britton (Vivien) and Jessica Lange (Constance), whose southern belle-meets-Mommie Dearest should land her an Emmy next year.

What I’ve found most interesting about the show surprisingly isn’t the A storyline that mainly consists of Ben and Vivian’s troubled marriage. It’s the mythos surrounding the house, built family by family by its previous occupants. I’ve been impressed by the show’s storytelling technique, using multiple storylines spanning multiple time periods, that gives viewers–amateur Nancy Drews or  Hardy Boys or Shaggies and Scoobies that we all are–a chance to slowly unravel why the house is so effed up. That layering of stories, each perfectly nuanced but all ultimately involving the house as witness/participant, is what makes each “aha” moment on the show worth it.

Is this a perfect TV show? By all means, no. In fact, judged against the traditional framework of television dramas, this show really shouldn’t work.

But the genius of it is that it somehow does. It defies convention enough to keep us hooked and powerless to turn away, even when Vivien wantonly eats a raw brain as a snack to feed the growing demon baby inside her. (See? Really, on paper, that shouldn’t work. But holy hell, it does!)

This show might not be for everyone. And based on Murphy’s track record, its creative genius might be short-lived, even though it’s already been renewed for a second season. But for those wanting the thrills of a midnight roller coaster ride in an abandoned amusement park, American Horror Story provides something that’s been missing from the TV landscape in recent years: balls to try something different.

If you’re in, you won’t regret it. Just keep all limbs inside the vehicle at all times.

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