Archive | 4:30 pm

Fall 2011 Review: American Horror Story

6 Oct

When I watched Homeland, I made the possibly too soon comment that I had just seen the best pilot of the fall 2011 season.  Well, after watching American Horror Story, I feel far more confident than that that in saying that I’d just seen the strangest.

Here’s the set up.  Connie Britton and Dylan McDermott are married with a daughter, living in Boston.  He’s a psychologist.  She comes home to find him cheating one day, and we find out later that she recently had a miscarriage, after which they had been distant emotionally.  They move out west to try to save their marriage and their family, and move into a creepy looking Victorian house because it’s twice the size and half the cost than the neighboring houses because the prior residents died inside, in a murder suicide.  We know the house is haunted already because, well, first, the show is called American Horror Story, and second, we saw a prologue in which a couple of mischievous twin pre-teen boys walked into the house to bust stuff up, were warned by a creepy girl that they would die inside, and then were brutally murdered by mysterious paranormal causes.

They enter the house and things are strange.  I’m going to engage in a bit of summarizing here, but this is as much for me as for you, because I need to write it down to have it all make sense to myself.  The mysterious girl from the prologue shows up out of nowhere, a bit older, telling Connie Britton she’ll die, and Jessica Lange comes into the house to take her, introducing herself as the neighbor, but she’s clearly also in on the supernatural.  A woman comes in claiming to have been the maid at the property for years and years, played by Frances Conroy, best known as the mother on Six Feet Under.  She’s hired, but oh, she’s in on the crazy too, in that she looks like a young attractive woman to McDermott but an old maid to everyone else, and she tries to seduce McDermott when she has a chance.  McDermott is treating a high school aged boy who has fantasies of murdering kids at his school, and who befriends McDermott’s teenage daughter who is having trouble fitting in and apparently also cuts herself.  McDermott begins sleepwalking naked (there’s a lot of naked Dylan McDermott) and starts playing with the flames on his stovetop.  Britton has sex with something a latex suit that she thinks is, but is not, McDermott.  McDermott runs into a mutilated Denis O’Hare (Vampire King of Mississippi from True Blood) who claims he lived in the house, which told him to kill his family, which he did, and now he’s only out of jail because he’s dying, but he’s warning McDermott, or maybe he’s just part of the whole supernatural business also.

It’s not just the fact that things are strange.  It’s that they are strange to the point of being extremely confusing (as you probably are if you read that whole summary paragraph), and I don’t mean that in a blatantly bad way as much just an extremely confusing way.  There can be a benefit to a certain amount of confusion in a show like this to get a certain feel, but that can be defeated if it goes too far and the viewer doesn’t have any idea what’s going on halfway into the season.  The style validates this confusing plot with frequent camera jumps and strange coloring.

Where do we go from here?  I’m not sure how this is sustainable for a long period of time.  Either they go crazy and die one way or another, or they get out of the house.  Those seem like the only two options, and though going crazy and dying can certainly take a couple of hours, it’s hard to see it taking more than that or they’d leave the house, unless they’re trapped or who even knows.

Will I watch it again?  Recently I said Pan-Am was the show that I said no to which was the closest to yes of all the series premieres so far.  Well, this is even closer, in that I honestly don’t know.  I’m leaning towards giving it another episode, because I’m curious where it could go, but it has the potential to burn out or get repetitive really quickly.  It may well be a game time decision.  I’m leaning towards watching it, but if I fall behind I can easily see just giving up.

Ranking the Show I Watch – 16: Curb Your Enthusiasm

6 Oct

(Note:  This was mostly written before this past season, and the sentiment is pretty much the same but I added an additional best episode at the end)

This awkwardness factor in this occasionally makes the Office look like a comfortable place to work.  It’s another unique show – although I don’t have any proof of this, I would wager there’s more improvisation in this show than in any other that I watch, and that’s not necessarily a good or bad thing but it works for this show.

I can’t think of any other popular show, or show that I watch anyway, that is driven by a single person as much as Curb.  It lives and dies by Larry – he’s in almost every scene and he’s far and away the most important character.  His wife, who would be second, is not even with him during the seventh season, and Jeff, the third most, is here and there.  I’m particularly not a huge fan of Susie – her schtick of cursing a lot and banning Larry from their house gets old very quickly.  The show works through the idea (like in Seinfeld) that Larry (and his friends Jeff and Richard Lewis) are immature and inappropriate and say the things we all think but don’t say, and even a bunch of the things we don’t even think.

Each season has an extremely loose running plot, and last season’s featured Larry trying to put together a Seinfeld reunion so he could cast his wife, spend time with her, and get back together.  The Seinfeld reunion I think was one of the better running plots and I thoroughly enjoyed Jerry himself being in about half the episodes of the season – it reminded me why I like Seinfeld a little bit better than curb – the addition of a straight man within the show really does help.

As further part of my rediscovery that in the right instance the catch phrase can become a potent weapon rather than a silly crutch, I’ve been able to identify three or four signature Larry quotes and actions that are fantastic.  Classics include his long and probing stare at someone who he thinks is bullshitting him, his semi-sarcastic prett-ay good, prett-ay good, and his, before asking an inappropriate or inane question, “Let me ask you something” – one of my favorite uses of this is in one of my favorite scenes in the series, when Larry, masquerading as a limo driver asks John McEnroe a series of ridiculous questions – “you have allergies?,” “ you believe in a god of some kind?,” “you like life?,” “do you garden?”

What It’s This High:  Seinfeld 2.0 more or less – the neurosis, the common every day situations spelled out, continuation of a successful formula

Why It’s Not Higher:  Slightly more less than more Seinfeld 2.0 – I love it, but yeah, sometimes I just want to shake Larry and tell him to give it a break, and the situations are relatable a little less often than in Seinfeld

Best episode of the most recent season:  Even though it doesn’t have Seinfeld in it, “Vehicular Fellatio” which contains of the funniest scenes of the season when Larry David, who wants to break up with his girlfriend, portrayed by Vivica A. Fox, but feels he can’t because she has cancer, tries to get her to break up with him by bringing her to a doctor notorious for advising women to dump men, and trying to act as stupid as humanly possible – Larry, after braying like a horse – “horses do it – and I can see why they do it – it feels good”

For the most recent season now, I’ll pick “The Bi-Sexual” mainly because it has the single funniest scene in the season, shown below.