Thursday, October 24, 2013

Why is American Horror Story's bizarreness acceptable guilty pleasure watching?

American Horror Story came out of the gate this fall as one of the most anticipated programs. Especially in a weak fall pilot season like this, I knew AHS would be either godawful or massively engaging and that executive producers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk would leave little middle ground.

The first season of American Horror Story had a certain set of complex rules regarding ghostdom in an extremely unlucky house where nearly everyone who lived on the premises gets murdered and then some. As someone who's not ordinarily a horror fan, the show took me to some dark and freaky places with a certain melodramatic aura characteristic of Murphy's style and that lent ambiance.

The second season, Asylum, was rife with grand potential. On top of being a period piece set in a really intriguing place (a 1950's sanitarium is the kind of thing you'd drop everything to see a History Channel documentary of), the show offered some highly intriguing castings: Jessica Lange as a sadist nun, Sarah Paulson as a steel-willed reporter (anything but her insufferable Studio 60 "comedienne" was a nice turn for her) , Joseph Fiennes as a monsignor, Chloe Sevigny being on TV at all, Zach Quinto as a court-appointed psychiatrist - and pretty much every actor delivered.

The show had a good villain in Jessica Lange's nun who would institute her reign of terror unchecked and a decent wild card in James Cromwell's Nazi doctor, but soon pretty much everyone started turning evil to the point where the show had about seven too many villains and to say that the balance between antagonists and protagonists was off would be a massive understatement. Suddenly, Lily Rabe was possessed by the devil, Zach Quinto (who, for the first time in recent memory, stood a chance of playing a good guy on TV) got possessed by his Sylar character from Heroes, there were aliens and mutant bears (I really wish either lions or tigers were included into the plot so that I could add an "oh my" at the end), and Joseph Fiennes' monsignor became guilty by association because he supported Cromwell's Nazi experiments. At least I think he did. After a while, I stopped keeping track. Was I really supposed to?

At some point the plot became secondary to the proverbial song and dance of the horror genre (hopefully that wasn't too lazy of a Glee reference) and Falchuk and Murphy were clearly having too much fun playing around to pay attention to the important details.

A message board commenter (thsholiver) I came across today wrote:
"I don't know about everyone else, but I at least watch the show for the batshit insanity, and any plot they can work in that doesn't get in the way of that is just a bonus."

The problem is that as the plot drifts down the list of priorities in AHS's storytelling kit, the show gets more and more forgettable. I remember last season for a few strong performances, and a random hodgepodge of standout scenes. Surely, the show benefits from Jessica Lange's "Name Game" Youtube clip but it would be nice if the actual plot was one of its strong points.

What's worse is that the show has such great potential with plots and characters. This season, the show takes place in New Orleans at a school for the witches. I'm not into True Blood, Vampire Diaries, Twilight (I don't even know if witches are in those shows so this could be an awful analogy, sorry) or whatever the hot show about supernatural teenagers is these days, but I AM interested to see a story about hormonal-crazed supernatural witches in the hands of Murphy, Falchuk and a stellar cast of Tessa Farminga, Sara Paulson, Jessica Lange, Gabourey Sidibe, Lily Rabe, and Kathy Bates.

And the show got off to a great start. But then there was a ridiculous plot in which Evan Peters's dead body parts are sewn together with that of other bodies in the morgue by a Tessa Farminga's Zoe who only knew him 15 minutes. The romantic notion of Zoe wanting to bring a guy you briefly fell in love with to life wasn't the problem so much that she thought it would be a good idea to sneak into a morgue and bring her quasi-boyfriend back to life by sewing his head and other dead body parts together.

If that wasn't enough, this week Gabourey Sidibe's character had sex with a minotaur this week. Trust me, if you didn't see the episode or don't know what I'm talking about here, it's as weird as you would have imagined.

The show is rougly 80% solid story plotting and 20% some errant writer just throwing weird shit into the script to see how much he can get away. In other words, the plot is starting to get derailed by that 20% batshit insanity and, even worse,  I'm starting to get the feeling that batshit insanity is going to start winning the day over a solid plot from here on out. How is that going to be memorable?

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