Get out of the house!: The Harmons move in on "American Horror Story" (Robert Zuckerman/FX)
We realize this is a pretty bold statement, but after watching all the new broadcast and cable TV shows, we feel confident in saying it: FX's supremely creepy horror/drama "American Horror Story" is hands down the best new show of the fall.
Not that the praise is unanimous. This latest creation from "Glee" and "Nip/Tuck" masterminds Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk has received a decidedly mixed reaction from critics: The New York Times chides the show for its "hollow theatricality" while allowing that it has "the potential to be a lot of fun"; Hitfix's Alan Sepinwall simply calls it "an overwrought mess." And some viewers are bound to be turned off by the show's copious amounts of sex and violence. But we love the way "AHS" takes a well-worn premise -- a family moves into a haunted house -- and transforms it into a mind-bending, pulse-pounding, gasp-inducing, utterly compelling piece of television.
Before "AHS" makes its much-anticipated debut this Wednesday, read on to see why we think it's well worth checking out… if you dare.
It's got a killer cast
TV vets Dylan McDermott ("The Practice") and Connie Britton (who we'll love forever as Tami Taylor on "Friday Night Lights") star as estranged husband and wife Ben and Vivien Harmon, who bring inner demons of their own into the house (her miscarriage, his infidelity). The supporting cast is uniformly strong, too, including Taissa Farmiga as Violet, the Harmons' sullen teen daughter; Evan Peters as Tate, a troubled teen with violent tendencies; and Oscar winner Jessica Lange as nosy neighbor Constance, who coats her insults in sugary-sweet Southern charm.
It's genuinely scary
AMC's "The Walking Dead" opened the door for truly frightening horror on cable TV, but "AHS" kicks that door down with authority. From the chilling flashback prologue, in which troublemaking twin boys get what's coming to them, to the countless jumps and frights throughout, the pilot (directed by Murphy) expertly builds a sense of almost-unbearable tension that doesn't let up for the entire hour. Take our word for it: Don't watch this right before bed.
But it's more freaky than gory
Sure, there's a decent amount of blood in "American Horror Story" -- enough to fully justify its TV-MA rating. But most of the show's scares are more of the freaky psychological nature, a la "Twin Peaks." (And we always prefer being freaked out to being grossed out.) Once the Harmons move into the house, Ben starts sleepwalking and having crazy visions, so we can't be sure if what we're seeing is really happening or all in his mind. And while we get a few vivid glimpses of the house's bloody history, much of that is left to our imagination -- and the episodes to follow, of course.
It looks fantastic
Murphy and Falchuk have said they were consciously trying to evoke classic '70s horror films like "The Shining" with the look of "AHS," and they succeeded. The spotless cinematography by Christopher Baffa has a rich and textured vintage feel to it that helps ground the show's more off-the-wall plot developments in reality -- and makes overly-glossy network dramas look phony by comparison. Heck, even the old-timey font used in the credits looks great.
It's not afraid to get "sexy"
Yes, "AHS" pushes the envelope with its adults-only sexual content. But we have to put "sexy" in quotes because the show's sex scenes always have a disturbing undercurrent to them. For example: The house comes with a loyal old maid (Frances Conroy, "Six Feet Under") who's maintained the home for decades. But when Ben looks at the maid, he sees a beautiful young temptress (Alexandra Breckenridge) he can't help but fantasize about. So is he really getting all hot and bothered about an old lady? And we won't even mention the rubber bondage suit hanging in the attic. Oh shoot… we just did.
It's not for everyone
This may sound like a strange selling point, but we kind of like how not everyone is onboard with this show. While the major TV networks endlessly tweak and water down their shows to appeal to every possible demographic (hi, "Terra Nova"!), it's nice to see a show take some artistic chances and risk offending some people. We're sure there will be plenty of people who hate "American Horror Story"… but we think there'll be just as many who absolutely love it.
We're intrigued by the possibilities
The premiere ends with a shocking twist that nicely sets up the season to come, and there are plenty of storylines to watch going forward: the thawing divide between Ben and Vivien; the unsettling romance developing between Violet and Tate; and, most importantly, what happened in that house before the Harmons got there -- and what's going to happen to them now that they're in it. All in all, we can't wait to watch the next chapter in this "Horror Story" unfold.
Watch the "American Horror Story" series premiere in full right here:
"American Horror Story" premieres Wednesday, 10/5 at 10pm on FX.
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