American Horror Story

I went into last night’s premiere of FX’s new series AMERICAN HORROR STORY with zero expectations and more than a little apprehension. Between co-creator Ryan Murphy’s ties to GLEE and an ad campaign that resembled a Halloween-themed issue of VANITY FAIR I was afraid the show would be a soft-pedaled and diluted DARK SHADOWS take-off; and while HORROR STORY is, at its heart, a dysfunctional-family melodrama with paranormal trappings, I must admit I’m intrigued enough to stick around for more. (And I’ll wait until Tim Burton releases his official Barnabas Collins redeux for watered-down pap.)

There’s a lot to like about AMERICAN HORROR STORY–especially Jessica Lange, who promises to supply some dark, if campy, humor–and it handles both its domestic and supernatural elements well. Murphy and his collaborator Brad Falchuk give the show a nice Gothic feel, and it appears they’re going to explore some rather perverse material (and in a not-immediately-obvious manner to boot). I also liked the conceit of the strange, matronly housekeeper who appears only to Dylan McDermott as a young seductress, but that could just be my weakness for redheads in french maid outfits.

Aside from some gimmicky editing and camera tricks that attempt to be edgy and only come off as distracting and annoying, AMERICAN HORROR STORY’s pilot was slick and entertaining. It definitely has cult potential. My only concern is how long the network and creators plan on running the show. Stories about hauntings can benefit from the slow build of the television format, but often require a fast-burning climax to make them fully satisfying. Can the showrunners dole out the story in tantalizing increments without becoming (as Stephen King once described THE X-FILES) a “five-year cocktease?” Or avoid so many stunning reveals that it jumps the shark in its second season?

How well AMERICAN HORROR STORY deals with that should determine the overall success of the series. Should be a fun ride.

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