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TV Pilot Light
Shining a little light on the yearly slate of TV pilots.
American Horror Story pilot review

American Horror Story pilot review

American Horror Story pilot review

American Horror Story pilot review

Yesterday evening FX screened the pilot of ‘American Horror Story’ to a room full of critics during this years’ Television Critics Association tour in Los Angeles. As @TVGMMattRoush (TVGuide.com’s Matt Roush) tweeted, “Ballsy of FX to screen Ryan Murphy’s berserk #AmericanHorrorStory (10/5) to theater full of critics.” Since my invite got lost in the mail, I will be reviewing the pilot using the reportage tool of our day (= Twitter).

To recap an earlier post, the pilot episode of ‘American Horror Story’ was written by the ‘Nip/Tuck’ and ‘Glee’ tandem Ryan Murphy/Brad Falchuk, and directed by Murphy. FX picked up ‘American Horror Story’ a mere week ago and has set the premiere date for Wednesday, October 5 at 10 pm.

‘American Horror Story’ stars ‘Friday Night Lights’—and Emmy nominee—Connie Britton, and ‘The Practice’s’ Dylan McDermott as the central couple Vivien and Ben Harmon “who move from Boston to Los Angeles as a means to reconcile past anguish.” Daughter Violet, played by newcomer Taissa Farmiga—sister of Vera Farmiga—rounds out the family unit. The “past anguish” turns out to be plural and concern the recent discovery of Ben’s marital infidelity as well as Vivien’s recent miscarriage (no word whether the events two are related). The Victorian house they move into turns out to be haunted (duh!). Also starring are Jessica Lange (Tootsie, Big Fish) as Constance, the Harmon’s neighbor, and Denis O’Hare (‘True Blood’, ‘The Good Wife’) as Larry the burn guy—your guess is as good as mine. I think I should especially mention guest stars Frances Conroy (‘Six Feet Under’) and Alexandra Breckenridge (‘Dirt’) who both play the Harmon’s housekeeper, as in they both play the same person. Intriguingly, Vivien sees mature Frances and Ben sees hot Alexandra. Talk about point of view.

There were more critics twittering about going to the screening than critics giving their opinion afterwards; all tease and no please. I am just going to focus on those critics who did share their (initial) reaction after the screening, with the notable exception of @televisionary (Jace Lacob of The Daily Beast), “Skipping tonight’s American Horror Story screening (I’ll watch at another time) to instead go out to dinner. Sorry, Ryan Murphy!” (Source) That’s harsh, hope Jace is not starting a trend here, ditching your date publicly via Twitter.

Let’s kick off with the naysayers. @HitFixDaniel (Hitfix’ Dan Fienberg) tweets, “I really, really enjoyed the font they used in American Horror Story.” Ouch, Dan, the sarcasm was clear even without the “really, really” phrasing. That other critics shared this sentiment is confirmed by Pittsburg Post-Gazette scribe Rob Owen on his blog, “The one thing I heard several critics agree on is that they liked the font used in the show’s credits and title card.” By the way, as far as I know Rob is the first to publish a blog posting on the screening (kudos).

Going down, @sepinwall (Alen Sepinwall, also Hotfix, did any other critics show up?) pitches in with, “American Horror Story was like season 3 of a Ryan Murphy show, in pilot form.” (Source) Either referring, one presumes, to the controversial Carver storyline of ‘Nip/Tuck’s’ third season or the unfailingly high pace the show sustained through that whole season. Doubt Alen means it positively, but some may take this as a mark of approval. Besides, so the pilot was crammed full of ideas, the pilot of ‘Glee’ was no different. Think of any memorable scene, quote or song and chances are it’s from the pilot episode.

I mentioned @TVGMMattRoush before, he finishes the tweet quoted above with, “Such a hot mess, but Jessica Lange: FAB.” An hour later, he replies to a follower, “American Horror Story is laughably, memorably, audaciously nuts. Keep returning to “berserk”.” (Source) So is the show good or bad, Matt? “Denis is in pilot and very creepy, but whole show goes a little too over the top for even my taste. (And I love horror.)” (Source) OK, the show is bad, that I get, but Denis O’Hare creepy? What, more creepy than in ‘True Blood’ where during a couple of episodes he acted opposite a vase containing what was left of his dead lover after he had been staked? On what kind of scale are we measuring here?

Over to @midwestspitfire (Libby Hill of TV on the Web), “You know what is not a good thing? American Horror Story.” (Source) Oh Libby, you “source of unrepentant id”—according to your Twitter bio—at least make your tweets fun to read. Take @GailPennington (over at stltoday.com), “I found FX’s “American Horror Story” surprisingly disturbing. Ryan Murphy will probably take that as a compliment. Not sure it is.” (Source) See Libby, it’s give and take, send and receive. Why paint yourself in a corner in advance?

With Gail’s tweet starts the move to more positive reactions, although most critics still have no idea what hit them. Take for instance @CandaceHavens (yes, the bestselling author, according to her bio), ”Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story is a freaky, twisted mess. Possible source for night terrors but I’m so in.” (Source) Candace is not the only critic to use the word “mess”, ”American Horror Story is… well… I’m willing to be convinced, but pilot was a mess”, according to @tvoti (Todd VanDerWerff over at The A.V. Club). (Source)

Other critics were more worried how the series would sustain the good work, “I quite like the pilot of AMERICAN HORROR STORY. It’s a genre/camp piece, and I have no idea how it can keep going, but the pilot is fun,” tweets @nprmonkeysee (NPR’s entertainment and pop-culture blog). ”Had fun at American Horror Story pilot screening. Pilot has its moments. They must get great genre directors for subsequent episodes,” according to @thesurfreport, and if I didn’t know better I would say that Diane Gordon was applying for a job. (Source)

Back to Rob Owen, the first to blog about the screening, and his opinion: “I’m really not sure what to make of ‘American Horror Story’ at this point but the fact that it leaves me wanting to see more…. But if the show is largely an exercise in trying to discern what’s real and what’s not, I’m not sure how long I’ll tune in.” Interesting, a sentiment that is echoed an hour later by EW.com’s Ken Tucker.

Now trusty old Ken Tucker managed to produce a blog entry about the screening in the wee hours (you really must need less sleep when you grow older). He may not have been the first to post, but since he has taken the trouble to write more than 140 characters, I’ll honor his hard work by quoting his—surprisingly positive—opinion almost unedited:

‘American Horror Story’ is much closer to what Murphy did on ‘Nip/Tuck’ than what he does in ‘Glee’, which is to say, ‘American Horror Story’ goes over-the-top with deliriously excessive behavior early on, and just keeps cranking up the weird.


I want to watch American Horror Story again—it’s crammed with details that require uncramming. At the very least, I can say with certainty that Murphy and Falchuk have upped the stakes (…) for TV horror. Unlike most scary TV shows (and movies), which rely upon the rhythm of a few quiet scenes followed by a fright every 20 minutes or so, ‘American Horror Story’ is pretty much all-scare, all the time.


I fully expect ‘American Horror Story’ to kick up the fuss that FX, Murphy, and Falchuk want. One more thing, there’s a general air of moral rot and emotional ugliness permeating ‘American Horror story’. This will have to prove exhilarating, rather than depressing, for the show to succeed.

Source: http://watching-tv.ew.com/2011/08/03/american-horror-story-glee-ryan-murphy-fx/

As I’m writing this, the articles and blog posts are starting to appear on the Interweb. I’m ignoring them, because they miss the initial knee-jerk reaction of the tweets and first posts. In the end, what do I think? One man’s berserk is the other man’s… whatever the antonym of berserk is. I love me a good amount of camp and spookiness. This definitely sounds like something I could enjoy.

© 2011 TV pilot light
"Like, to do a pilot, you don't know what's going to happen with it." - Jenna Elfman