television

American Horror Story’ is a freak show. Can you turn away?

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Connie Britton, left, Dylan McDermott and Taissa Farmiga star in ‘American Horror Story,’ a show about masturbating, dead fetuses and kinky sex — you know, family entertainment.

The Details

American Horror Story
Two and a half stars
Wednesdays, 10 p.m., FX

Glee co-creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk are probably the last people you’d expect to be responsible for a dark horror series (although they did get into some pretty depraved stuff on their pre-Glee show Nip/Tuck). But here they are as the creators and executive producers of American Horror Story, a hilariously terrible new supernatural drama on FX. Horror Story isn’t scary in the least, but it’s so over-the-top demented that it’s kind of fun to watch just to see what totally stupid thing it will do next. The pilot features Dylan McDermott’s character crying while masturbating, and that’s only about the third or fourth most ridiculous thing in the episode.

The set-up is pretty basic: The dysfunctional Harmons—mom Vivien (Connie Britton), dad Ben (McDermott), daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga)—move into a creepy old house with a history of past tenants dying violent deaths, and soon they are seeing apparitions, hearing voices, feeling compelled to behave strangely, etc. The prosaic structure suggests that Murphy and Falchuk learned all the wrong things from watching a bunch of lame Stephen King miniseries, and their twist on the formula involves adding a lot of laughably unsexy kinky sex. There’s a wizened old maid (Frances Conroy) who takes care of the property and somehow appears to Ben as a lusty sexpot (Alexandra Breckenridge). There’s a full-body latex fetish outfit that plays an important role in the plot. And of course there’s the crying while masturbating.

There are a bunch of good actors stuck in this mess, including Jessica Lange in her first-ever series TV role as the Harmons’ disturbing, intrusive neighbor, and they seem to have varied understandings of just how campy it’s supposed to be. Britton plays things mostly straight, but her screaming match with McDermott about carrying around a dead fetus is the episode’s most unintentionally (?) funny moment. McDermott, who plays the world’s most irresponsible, unstable psychiatrist, seems like he’s having a little more fun. The show is so overwrought and misguided that it wouldn’t really be a surprise if the characters suddenly burst into choreographed pop-song numbers. You may just want to tune in again to see if they do.

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Josh Bell

Josh Bell is the film editor for Las Vegas Weekly, where he's been writing movie and TV reviews since 2002. ...

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