TV review: American Horror Story

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Attempting the horror genre on television is as ambitious as it is problematic. It doesn’t lend itself to a sustainable narrative, because how long can we really wait to find out what goes bump in the night?

Adding Ryan Murphy (“Glee,” “Nip/Tuck”) to the mix doesn’t help.

With “American Horror Story,” creator Murphy takes the age-old haunted house story and adds family dysfunction, focusing on Vivien (Connie Britton) and Ben’s (Dylan McDermott) marital strife.

After Vivien has a miscarriage, she comes home one afternoon to find psychiatrist Ben in bed with a young female patient. Ben decides a fresh start in Los Angeles is best for their marriage and for their rebellious teenage daughter, Violet (Taissa Farmiga). Oops, they purchased the wickedest house on the West Coast. Creepy stuff ensues.

Their judgmental neighbor Constance (Jessica Lange) and her mentally handicapped daughter make cryptic remarks. The housekeeper appears as an old woman to Vivien and a porno-esque maid to Ben. There’s also a latex bondage outfit in the attic with its own persona.

“American Horror Story” deserves credit for trying something new — and FX has a long track record of inventive shows — but also censure for being a complete mess. Murphy has always bothered me. He’s an inconsistent, egomaniacal showrunner, as evident in his pilot’s writing and directing.

There are heavy-handed scenarios, poorly scripted marital discourse (that leads to sex) and cliched troublesome teenagers (cutting, smoking, listening to Morrissey).

But the purely outlandish stuff — prime example: gratuitous views of naked McDermott butt while he masturbates and then cries — is unforgivable.

All of this is responsible for a wildly inconsistent tone. Britton does an excellent job with her dramatic, if somewhat over-the-top material, but the remaining cast seems to be operating on complete camp. The tension and decent scares are erased by moments of “WTF?” laughter.

"American Horror Story"

10 p.m. Wednesdays on FX

1.5 stars