'American Horror Story': What the Critics Are Saying
From Glee co-creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, FX’s risky horror thriller American Horror Story premieres on FX on Wednesday at 10 p.m. Here’s what critics are saying about the series revolving around Ben and Vivien Harmon (Dylan McDermott and Connie Britton) that Murphy has dubbed a “psycho-sexual thriller.”
The Hollywood Reporter’s chief TV critic Tim Goodman pondered the sanity of those living inside the haunted house at the center of the drama and said AHS has “numerous other problems that make little to no sense.”
“Murphy and Falchuk are a long way from Glee, their other flawed series, as they dabble in what Murphy said was a psycho-sexual horror story as opposed to, say, the Saw franchise,” he writes.
“But it’s hard to tell whether Murphy and Falchuk are real fans of the horror genre or just set out to create something so creepy and freaky and off-the-charts weird that it would create massive buzz,” he adds. “One thing they got right – from bad horror movies, at least – is that every time a character has the opportunity to make a really bad decision that will almost certainly scare them senseless or kill them, they make it.
“With glee, you might say,” he observes.
While praising co-star Jessica Lange, Goodman ultimately doesn’t recommend the series, noting that it has too many loose ends.
“Unlike the Harmons, watching what goes on in that house even once is enough to know better than to go back again.”
The New York Times’ Mike Hale noted that Gleeks “should feel perfectly at home with Horror Story.”
“The similarities are greater than the differences, and they start with the love of excess that stretches through Glee and back to the first Murphy-Falchuk collaboration, Nip/Tuck,” he writes.
While calling the series a more “classically minded chiller” than HBO’s True Blood and AMC’s The Walking Dead, he praised leads Britton, McDermott and their on-screen daughter, Taissa Farmiga and said that the “cast alone makes the show worth checking out.”
“Also in the cast is Frances Conroy, sharing with Alexandra Breckenridge the role of a mysterious housemaid [Moira]; in a nifty twist, Vivien sees the older maid at the same time that Ben sees (and sees a lot of) the younger one,” he noted. “Conroy is reprising her gargoyle turn from Six Feet Under, and her presence is a reminder of how Mr. Murphy’s style here echoes that of the Six Feet Under creator, Alan Ball.”
The Los Angeles Times’ Mary McNamara called the series a “big ol’ brooding, baffling, ridiculous and occasionally compelling mess of a show.”
“Never big fans of narrative convention, creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have rejected the essential rule of horror — the unseen is more terrifying than the revealed — in favor of the same ‘more is more’ theology that fuels their equally defiant Glee,” she wrote. “As a result, early episodes seem less concerned with telling a scary story than pelting the viewer with story lines, vignettes, disturbing imagery, psycho-sexual titillation and the odd moment of high camp.”
“From the cheesy porn come-hithers of Moira to the seemingly endless succession of murders committed in the house, American Horror Story is frantic in a way that diffuses rather than intensifies the goose-bump factor,” she penned.
Ultimately, she says that the series makes it “difficult to look away.”
“It's Britton and Lange, along with the thing in the basement, that keep you wondering what will happen next, and hoping it will be a lot less hectic and anything goes than the first three episodes,” she concludes. “Because even with all the zombies and the vampires, there's always room for a good American Horror Story."
HitFix’s Alan Sepinwall dubbed the series an “overwrought mess” and noted that the series “is so far over the top that the top is a microscopic speck in its rearview mirror, and so full of strange sounds, sights and characters that you likely won't forget it -- even though many of you will wish you could.”
“The house itself is a marvel of production design; it wouldn't be hard at all to imagine that many baroque, terrifying things have happened there even if the series didn't open with a flashback to one of the many murders,” he writes. “But the problem with doing a haunted house story as an ongoing series rather than as a movie is that it becomes harder to justify why the occupants don't just move out, already.
"The events of the series' second episode are the kind that would drive any sensible person -- and if you don't want a character to seem sensible, you don't cast Connie ‘Mrs. Coach’ Britton -- to run screaming and never, ever, look back, only for the third episode to contort itself into knots explaining (not very convincingly) why the Harmons will stay in this hellpit.”
“But then, plot logic and plausible characterization don't have any business in a Murphy/Falchuk show,” he says.
Ultimately, he deemed American Horror Story “less a scripted drama than a crazy idea delivery system.”
Meanwhile, Time magazine’s James Poniewozik noted that while the series is a “disorganized, unbelievable mess, it’s often disorganized and unbelievable in an interesting way. And partly because in a horror story --especially a hallucinatory, highly sexualized horror story -- Murphy may finally be working in a genre where way too much is just about enough.”
One thing most critics can agree on, however, is that its unique premise will likely achieve hit status for the cable network.