FX Network has rejected the tried and true comedy or crime-drama-based primetime lineup in favor of something a bit more experimental. Despite horror only representing 5 percent of the motion picture market share, the success of the zombie-horror comic book adaptation “The Walking Dead” seems to have injected FX with considerable confidence in the genre. The network’s latest foray into horror comes in the form of the original series “American Horror Story.”
The show follows the delightfully dysfunctional Harmons, who move across the country to escape their troubles and start a new life in Los Angeles. The family settles down in a charming old Victorian mansion that was inexpensive because of its “Rose Red”-esque penchant for murdering its inhabitants. From there Vivien (Connie Britton) and Ben (Dylan McDermott) attempt to sort out their numerous relationship issues as their daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga) tries to fit in at school.
It would be a typical sitcom if not for the creepy unhinged neighbors, semi-homicidal walking hallucinations and a rampaging sex monster clad head-to-toe in leather.
Britton and McDermott do a wonderful job demonstrating the deep flaws of their characters. Their relationship is palpably strained, and the evil house is the perfect catalyst for shaking things up between them. Farmiga is similarly believable in her role as a petulant teenager with deep emotional problems in need of urgent attention.
While the Harmons serve to ground the plot and drive the story, the supporting characters and the house itself are what make the show interesting. Flashbacks and cryptic comments from people who seem to know too much slowly fill the audience in on the gruesome details of the past and increasingly terrifying reality of the present. Exploring the specifics behind the age-shifting maid, the burn-scarred peeper and murderous creature living in the basement will root viewers to their seats. The show will only grow more appealing as the bloodstained history behind the house is revealed and the initial eeriness of the characters is explained or expanded upon.
Creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk should be applauded for refusing to exploit jumpy thrills or cheap scares so common in modern horror. They have instead opted for disturbing characters and a disquieting story. The skin-crawling nature of the plot is satisfying, though it is unclear how much longevity it will support for the show. Inevitably the writers will expose so many details the house will lose its status as the terrifying unknown — or everyone will be killed. It will be interesting to see how the crew extends the plot into season two and beyond.
It seems FX’s trust was well placed. “American Horror Story” has enjoyed considerable success, and a second season has already been confirmed. New episodes air Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX and FXHD. Every episode to date is available on demand via Amazon and iTunes. The first five episodes are also available for free streaming on fxnetworks.com.