American Horror Story: Season 1 (Murder House)
Traditionally horror series are among the commonplace on the television landscape. Perhaps they just can’t compete with the level of blood, gore and sex aficionados of the genre have come to expect from the cinematic variations. Even with the increasingly permissive standards of cable television horror remains in the minority. With every sweeping generalization, there is the preverbal exception to prove the rule. In this instance, the horror series that found its way to the current TV programming guide is American Horror ‘Story’. It is the brainchild of Ryan Murphy, a proven creative and eclectic force in television and is an equally talented partner, Brad Falchuk. Usually, showrunners tend to remain content within their comfort zone of genres, but when you see the names of this imaginative pair in the series credits, there is no telling what kind of shows you are about to experience. Let me amend that statement; you are certain the creativity and production will be excellent. You wouldn’t usually think that the creators of one of the best examples of horror ever to appear on television also were behind a musical, teen angst drama and a medical series. Of course, the shoes just referenced are ‘Glee, ‘Popular ‘and ‘Nip/Tuck,' each prime example of ingenious variations of their respective types of storytelling. Now, this pair has set their focus on horror, and the genre as seen on TV will never be quite the same. Not only are the constructs of this series unique but the presentation and fundamental format significantly different what you might expect. One factor in the sizable number of award nominations is the creators listed this as a miniseries although the story was spread over a dozen episodes, currently fairly standard for a regular season. The validation for inclusion in this category was met handily since the season had a definitive opening, middle acts followed but a real conclusion of the story. As a self-contained story, the season didn’t need to concern itself with the usual contrivances necessary to justify additional seasons, rendering cliffhangers and loose threads entirely moot. No formal announcement of this narrative technique was formerly announced until close to the end of the season keeping the audience in suspense regarding how the tale of terror would play out.
We are so accustomed to a series working towards perpetuating itself that the idea that no one, not even the central characters are safe is completely unexpected. Fundamentally, this is an anthology series with each installment takings full season to unfold addressing one of the problems with presenting a horror story on TV. If you can’t be explicit the only way to go is make it a psychological horror story. The problem is that requires a much longer time and deeper commitment than usually afford a TV show as well as working towards a true dénouement. Murphy and Falchuk have expertly devised a way around these limitations as aptly demonstrated here. The first tenant of horror is to bridge the characters and the audience. In this instance it is accomplished by centering the story on a typical American dysfunctional family; Harmons. After the father, Ben (Dylan McDermott) had an affair and his wife Vivien (Connie Britton) had a stillborn child they moved from Boston to Los Angeles uprooting their already sullen teenage daughter, Violet (Taissa Farmiga). They move into a large house that is priced unexpectedly much lower than the fair market value. In horror vernacular that always points to trouble ahead. Ben is a psychiatrist who plans to turn one of the rooms into his office and open his practice. The first sign, at least for the audience, is the strange housekeeper who seems to come with the property. To women, Moira O'Hara appears as a middle-aged woman with a damaged eye (Frances Conroy) dressed in a modest maid’s uniform. However, men have a far different perspective. They see a seductive young woman (Alexandra Breckenridge) barely clad in a French Maid’s costume directly out of a male fantasy. She is sexually aggressive well versed in the use of her sexuality.
Another element that is necessary is the darkly strange neighbor, Constance Langdon (Jessica Lange) and her psychotic son Tate (Evan Peters) who becomes Ben’s first patient. The young man also takes an interest in Violet. Considering Violet doesn’t exactly fit into the LA high school scene this is a desperately needed connection for the girl. Violet is pounced upon by the resident mean girl contingent for smoking on school grounds. The creative pair behind this show builds the story slowly taking great care to pull the audience in securely until they permit things to get extremely and deliciously bizarre. You are always aware that the characters are in the grips of the supernatural, but with each episode, a tantalizing additional piece of the puzzle is revealed. Although not able to be as explicit as premium cable the degree of violence and sexual innuendo is superbly played. There are the trademark gender issues always present in a Murray/ Falchuk production spiced by nonlinear fetishism timelines and multigenerational discord. Just wait until you catch you first glimpse of the infamous ‘rubber man,' unlike any character ever portrayed on broadcast television.
Revealing any details here goes beyond the usual spoiler regulations. This series demands the audience experience it as intended by its artistic creators. Everything from the creepy, hint filled opening sequence to the oddly disturbing soundtrack this series is unlike anything you might expect. With the second season approaching the DVD and Blu-ray has been released right on schedule. Watching it in high definition is amazing especially in light of the amount of craftsmanship that went into each scene. The details are stunning and providing the necessary level of realism to keep you fully within the story. Simply put, the cast here is perfect; Dylan McDermott is far from his part on The Practice’ stretching his talent portraying the morally uncertain Ben. Britton is excellent as the beleaguered wife while two-time Academy Award-winning Jessica Lange brings a demonic Norma Desmond flavor to her role. The actress playing the mistress, Kate Mara has incredible talent in her genes. Her younger sister, Rooney Mara scored the coveted role as the American ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. A member of another talented family, Taissa Farmiga, has an older sister, Vera, who is an accomplished actress in her right. Zachary Quinto from ‘Heroes’ and the ‘Star Trek’ film reboot joins veteran character actor Denis O'Hare, lately of ‘True Blood’ to substantially argument an already exceptionally strong cast. With the tightest scripting saw in ages and spot on the direction this brilliant troupe of actors will provide an experience that will literary enthrall you heightening your anticipation for the next chapter.