Edgy is a big part of FX’s brand identity and, on that note, American Horror Story — the network’s latest drama offering, from Ryan Murphy, creator of Glee as well as former network staple Nip/Tuck, doesn’t disappoint.
But the series’ one-hour pilot episode, at least, almost tries too hard, packing in so many characters and real and supernatural situations that the viewer is left scratching their head, not quite sure where things are going.
The action of American Horror Story centers around psychologist Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott), who moves his family to Los Angeles from Boston to overcome some past difficulties — specifically, his wife Vivien (Connie Britton’s) miscarriage and his own extramarital affair. They purchase a large house at a cheap price, despite the real estate agent’s warning that the prior occupants died in a murder-suicide.
Things only get stranger as the Harmons settle in. First, there are constant, unexpected visits from next-door-neighbor Constance (Jessica Lange) and her retarded daughter Adelaide (Jamie Brewer), who repeatedly warns Vivien, “You’re going to die.”
Then, McDermott mysteriously begins to develop a sleepwalking habit. The house’s longtime maid, Moira (Frances Conroy), also manages to convince Vivien to keep her on. For some reason not yet explained, Ben sees the middle-aged Moira as a younger, sultrier woman (played by Alexandra Breckenridge).
And there are yet more disparate elements introduced into the pilot, including daughter Violet’s (Taissa Farmiga) problems at school and budding relationship with Tate (Evan Peters), a troubled teen client of Ben’s. There’s also the sudden emergence of Larry Harvey (Denis O’Hare), a former owner of the house who offers Ben an ominous warning.
Sound like a lot to digest? Well, it is — and that’s not even all of it. Despite excellent acting and solid production, the pilot packs so much into a single episode that it’s difficult to lose yourself in the story. The pace isn’t deliberate enough to get a sense of who these characters are before the drama and weirdness begin to ensue, which in turn makes it hard to buy in as a viewer.
American Horror Story would be well-served to slow things down as the 13-episode series unfolds.