American Horror Story (2011-Present) Ryan Murphy (Cr.), Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton, Jessica Lange, Evan Peters, Frances Conroy, Denis O’Hare
Now, I watch a lot of movies. As you may assume from this blog, I watch a metric shit ton of movies. And, like most people who’d rather crawl into their own imaginations and never deal with the world at large such as things like a ‘job’ and ‘groceries’ and ‘not the internet’ and ‘that one outstanding parking ticket that you know you should pay but can’t seem to get around to it’, I also happen to watch a good deal of television. Most of this ranges from the brilliant (The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Parks and Recreation, Breaking Bad, Sherlock, Louie, Arrested Development) to the silly (New Girl, How I Met Your Mother, 24, Doctor Who) to the abjectly fucking terrible (oh Lost, how I tried to love you and how unwilling you were to be loved). It was recently suggested by my friend, heir and hetero life-mate, Mr. Alex Huntsberger, that perhaps I branch out into the realm of writing for TV. There are many movies out there. Many that need to be hunted down and shat upon like the little squealing piggies they are. Many that need to be needlessly and hyperbolically praised as the next coming of Christ…only to be hunted down and shat upon like the aforementioned sty-hogs (looking at you, Prometheus. And, no, I’m still not over it). So, I don’t really have too much time to waste on more than two hours of turdery at a time.
Thus, I have bequeathed sections of this blog to the ever-hilarious and somehow-even-more-offensive Mr. Alex to review the shit I don’t want to watch. I shall be his editor! His liege! Orson Wells with terrible makeup chewing the scenery to his silhouetted Joe Cotton typing away (suck it, I actually HAVE seen Citizen Kane)! However, before he begins unleashing the world of obscure televisions upon your supple eye-testicles, we have decided to collaborate on an adventure into the heart of TV darkness itself…American Horror Story.
Let me say this, first and foremost. I hate Glee. I hate everything about Glee (except Jane Lynch, duh. Anyone who hates Jane Lynch is Hitler. And luckily, we killed that guy). It takes phenomenal music and ‘broadway-ifies’ it. It is the id of Ryan Murphy’s rampant and insatiable inner musical theater geek allowed to run unencumbered by taste, quality, colorblind casting, copyright law and actual talent through the annals of our rich musical history and transform greats (most egregiously, The Rocky Horror Picture Show…FUCKING WHY? WHY DID WE NEED YOU TO REMAKE ROCKY HORROR?) into auto-tuned slabs of sterile hormonal bullshit. Thus, when this gentleman, Mr. Murphy, a man who spells ‘subtlety’ ‘S-U-B-OMG-CRANESHOTS-GUYS!-T-L-EVERYBODY-YELL-ALL-THE-TIME-E-T-I’M-A-HACK-Y’, decided to turn his sights onto the genre of ‘horror’, I hung my head in shame and sprinted in the opposite direction. That was until Mr. Huntsberger said, “It’s the worst fucking writing on television. It’s amazing. You’re gonna hate it.” Well, how could I pass that up?
Honestly. How could I? I adore suckling on the teat of terrible cinema. Much like when a friend sticks his nose into a carton of milk that expired back in the days of Reagan, you have to smell it as well. No, it ain’t gonna waft roses at you…but the self-induced schoedenfreude is worth the price of admission alone. How can I watch The Room, which is only two hours of mind-numbing awfulness, Transformers: The Dark of the Moon, which is three hours of batshit incongruity, or THE ENTIRE TWILIGHT SAGA (not the whole thing, but I’m rounding up) when there is this gift to all that is terrible just waiting on Netflix? It is this pungent hanging fruit, beautiful on the outside, but one glance tells you there’s nothing other than putrid rancidity waiting for you. Twelve hours of awful in season one alone. How could I pass up something so shitty?
Oh, and I forgot to mention, after I informed my good friend Jesse that I watched The Faculty for the second time, his response was, “You do know that life is finite, right?” Am I really wasting myself? Are these countless hours of horrific cinematography, painful miscasting and cry-orgasms really running out my clock?
Who fucking cares! So, without further ado, this is an emailed conversation between myself and Mr. Alex Huntsberger about the pilot of this Turd Ferguson of a show. We set out to ask each other questions and, with our answers, offer more questions for discussion:
ALEX: First question. For the love of god, WHY?
ANDREW: A very good question, sir, and one I pondered for a good deal of this first hour. For those of you who haven’t seen it, the episode begins with two ginger kids walking past a child with down syndrome and saying ‘I hate trees’. And then they are murdered. It would seem the grossly untalented and horrendously over-paid Mr. Ryan Murphy has decided that horror really needs his touch. It would seem that horror, to him, has always been more subtle, more precise than it ever had any right to be. And so, like some kind of Baz Lurhman descending from the rafters, he has violated the sacred art of scary movies to stitch, no staple, NAY superglue together this pastiche of utter what-the-fuckery. Absolutely none of it makes sense. There are hum-on be-ings in this played ostensibly by the mom from Friday Night Lights and I think Jerry O’Connell’s stunt double. On the one hand, Miss Britton is doing everything she can to lend realism and depth to her lines while Mr. Dylan “Orgasm Weeping” McDermott stumbles about the show like an uncle who’s had too many strawberry champagnes at a wedding. He’s just embarrassing himself and everyone else. But this show isn’t dragged down by its acting. I mean, Jessica Lange is fucking hilariously terrible as the obvious evil-bitch character (which I’m sure comes from much practice having been with Sam Shepard for so many years. Great actor and writer, but I bet he’s a tough mutherfucker) and Frances Conroy as the sometimes-young-and-sexy-boobs-everywhere-maid-sometimes-oh-god-that’s-a-face-and-not-a-whale’s-vagina is delightful. Even Denis O’Hare is doing his best at not looking like an utter tit. Side note: I feel so sorry for that guy. Did he lose a bet? Did he murder orphans in his past life? Because he, though tremendously talented, has always been relegated to the shittiest of movies and TV. Poor man. If you see him on the street, give him a hug.
Back on track. Point is this: every actor in this could have been Meryl Fucking Streep and it still would have been worse than a badger with IBS due, in totality, to the complete and utter lack of competence of its creator. Ryan Murphy wouldn’t know how to direct his way out of a paper bag even if it had been pre-torn and inscribed with detailed directions to its plethora of exits. The guy is an idiot. It seems as though, in some kind of misguided attempt to get away from the cutesiness of Glee, he has simply waltzed through the minefield of the horror genre and picked up all the elements he thought were ‘FUN’. Ugh. None of it makes any fucking sense. There is no pacing. There is no tension. It’s just stuff. Stuff. Stuff and more stuff. Like, if you took all the Double Stuff Oreos in the world, scraped out the (oddly vegan?) cream filling, regurgitated it into a pile of hydrogenated oils and then threw it at the ‘Horror’ section of a Blockbuster…this is the clustercuss you get. I think he’s trying to make the new norm of horror, but what it becomes is something akin to a Boystown drag show on Halloween. It isn’t scary. It isn’t compelling. Actually…scratch that. It is compelling. I want to see the next episode because, honestly, I really only took a tiny whiff of the rotten innards this thing has to offer. I want to see how truly turdtackular the whole thing is in the end. So, my question to you, is:
Having seen all of season one, am I missing some essential information that would piece this all together; or is it the hot tranny mess I have preconceived?
ALEX: Okay, Mooney, you delicious little tit-mouse. First of all, I do not know if this is the truth, but I am going to say it anyway because it needs to be said: you have never watched Glee. Again, I have no idea if this is true, but knowing that you and I both have an astounding ability to be incredibly opinionated (i.e. we be haters y’all) about things that we have never actually seen but only hate on principal. (Like the Cheesecake Factory, cuz I don’t need to actually eat in one to hate it, I just fucking know that I will hate it and, besides, I’ve already made the same mistake with White Castle because I was in bumfuck Ohio doing
summerstock theatre adult theatre camp and I had fucking all else to do and thin I ended up take a five-act fucking Shakespearean shit complete with atmospheric prologue, steadily rising action, thunderous climax and watery denouement.) You don’t hate Glee because you hate Glee. You hate the idea of Glee. Until now you have never actually experienced that outright ass-spraying mayhem that is Ryan Murphy and mygodman don’t you know that if you strike him down, he will become more powerful than you can ever imagine. (I for one have also never seen Glee. However, I have watched The Glee Project, which has all of the auto-tuned, back-of-the-house belting but with added crack-like addiction of a reality tv show. It’s terrible, it’s awful and I totally watched the first season and was soooooooo happy for Damien when he got to co-win because of course they had co-winners because it’s fucking Glee where everything is made of Unicorn sphincters, which, as everyone knows, are the most delicious part of the unicorn and is considered a delicacy in certain parts of the Ukraine.) You cannot stop Ryan Murphy, Mooney, because Ryan Murphy does not give a fuck. He doesn’t give any of the fucks, he keeps them all for himself, hoarding them in his bedazzled secret lair buried under the private mall that is itself buried under Barbara Steisand’s House. (Seriously, though, that’s a real thing.) I imagine that every morning Ryan Murphy awakens, dons his leopard print speedo and does laps through an entire Olympic-sized swimming pool filled of fucks, like he’s Scrooge McDuck. He’s impenetrable Mooney. And no matter what you do, no matter how many giant wooden horses you leave at his front gate, the kingdom of Ryan Murphy shall never, ever fall.
Anyway, what were we talking about again?
Oh yes, American Fucking Horror Story. Dear god, I love this show. It is the Anti-Wire. It is a show where they have literally taken every single rule of ‘Good Television Writing’, dumped whiskey down their throats, spun them around until they threw up and then used that throw-up to do finger painting. It has absolutely no recognizably hu-mon characters, despite the vein attempts of Connie Britton, Peter Evans and Tarisa ‘the Elizabeth to Vera’s Ashley/Mary Kate” Farmiga to approximate some vague semblance of emotional verisimilitude (with Dylan McDermott doing his damnedest impersonate an oak). It doesn’t so much have a plot, aka a series of causal events, so much as it has an agglomeration of fantastical occurrences, like one of those massive pile-ups from the Blues Brothers if all the cars were driven by wizards. It has no sense of pacing, which everyone can agree is pretty much the most important aspect of any horror (because tell me what is scarier: the kid from The Shining seeing those little girls or the minutes of lead-up that’s just him riding his big wheels through the Overlook?). Instead, it plunges ever forward like a Werner Herzog in a jetpack, careening from “boo” after “boo” after scene Dylan McDermott Tearfully Masturbating until the episode runs out of time and the audience granted a brief reprieve from “Into The Void” opening credits sequence that is the inside of Ryan Murphy’s mind. (Mooney, babe, can you hyperlink that? Thanks toots)
Watch this, nerds: THIS
This show takes every stride that television as a narrative form has made in the wake of The Sopranos and runs them backward towards the Pilocene of Nickelodeon spectaculars and music-hall minstrel shows, cackling and/or weepfully masturbating the whole way home.
I think the show’s fantastic. And I think the show’s fantastic exactly because Ryan Murphy sits upon a throne of hoarded fucks. If this show were at all attempting to resemble reality, then its lack of characters and miscast actors (Connie Britton, you poor thing) and tin-eared dialogue would make the show totally awful. It would be the 2 1/2 Men of melodrama. It’s fast, it’s easy, you don’t feel good about it but it’s there and so you’ll eat it. But instead, American Horror Story is like if 2 1/2 Men cut out the 1 1/2 men who are clearly dead weight and jumped right into Charlie Sheen’s fevered head. This show is pure Tiger Blood baby. Its Grand Guignol ambitions are not what doom the show, they’re what make it special. if this show didn’t have rubber men and sexy ghosts and basement monsters and Jessica Lange, it wouldn’t be worth watching. Hell, if it only had 1 of those things, it would be terrible.
But instead it has all of them. And it has earth, fire, wind, water and heart. (And also Dylan McDermott, who really is just terrible.) You ask if there’s anything you’re missing, I say that what you’re missing is the whole. You have to step back, unfocus your eyes, and let the glorious sail boat at the center of this all pop off the page.
We’ll get to Jessica Lange later. You say she’s terrible, I say she’s perfect. And Denis O’Hare? Mooney, you ask why he is in so much terrible television. In return, I ask you to watch this and then I will await your apology on Mr. O’Hare’s behalf. The man is not only getting paid, he is getting to have the time of his life!
I’m going to cut it short here, cuz I need to go to sleep. But before I go, I will ask you one simple question:
Oh yeah? What would you do differently?
ANDREW: Differently? What would I, Andrew Mooney, do differently for this show? Well, first of all, I’d take it out back, serenade it with a sweet song and then unload two barrels of taste in the back of its fucking head. Well, obviously, after your exceedingly convincing argument for the insanity of this thing’s underbelly, (along with some delightfully colorful metaphors), it’s clear it comes down to opinion (duh). Let me correct you, good sir, I have seen exactly half of one episode of Glee and it made me want to give myself a self-lobotomy. You are right though. It’s not so much the practice that I despise, but the belief. Ryan Murphy is simply yet another prophet to the religion of banality that has infected all commercial art since the juggernaut that is Disney anointed Zac Efron as the second coming (and, usually, after meeting him, most girls will have had a second coming). Now, I’m fine, to a certain extent, for Glee to stew in its own cesspit. Just don’t go in that fucking pit. But, no, Mr. Murphy couldn’t leave well alone. Like Hitler saying, “You know, Poland might be fun to own,” Ryan has over reached. Horror has a bad enough rap without this asshole coming and pooping all over it. I mean, seriously, Sinister? Hostel Part Two? Madea’s Witness Protection? Horror just can’t get a fucking break.
So, how would I fix this horrid mess? Well, I might shock and offend my readers if I fully admit here, in front of the universe, that I didn’t care for Firefly. (I’ll wait for the screams of fury/rage/sexual pleasure from complete disappointment die down…you done? Good). Much like I don’t care for a good deal of the works of one Mr. David Lynch. (I’ll wait again…still waiting…you done? Good.) It’s the presence of camp in a genre I love and take seriously that drives me absolutely nut-balls. While Lynch has several wonderfully talented actors shifting around space like decoratively painted planks of hardwood, our good friend Mr. Joss Whedon spends so much of his air time winking at the audience, chuckling under his breath and insatiably attempting to convince us of his cleverness. Mr. Murphy subscribes to the same sense of utterly preposterous bullshittery but in a different domain. Instead of intelligence, we are offered flamboyant over-the-top dick waggling. You know, with tassels and shit.
Here’s the issue: he calls it a ‘horror’ story. You know what’s difficult to pull off? A horror story. It takes pacing, development, atmosphere, coherence and skill to actually creep out, chill and frighten before you can wrap it all up in a thematic bow. Yes, it’s fucking difficult. If you look through the history of the horror genre, you’ll find that the classics, the ‘rip your eyes out with fear’ greats were all directed by legitimate artists. Rosemary’s Baby? Polanski. The Shining? Kubrick. The Thing? Carpenter (he’s very good at what he does…not much else though). So, how would I do it differently? Well, we have two routes. One, get someone who understands that sometimes a shot lasts for longer THAN A FUCKING MILLISECOND and that NOT EVERY SHOT HAS TO BE FROM A FUCKING CRANE. Honestly, was the cinematographer constantly snorting meth? Next, I would pare it down. Actually make it a horror story with scary things, basic coherence, and characters that you wouldn’t constantly wish are going to be randomly eaten by bears. But, that takes intelligence, skill, money and time. Murphy probably has one of those things (I’ll give you a clue, it’s green, papery and is usually seen being wiped through Donald Trumps
taint redneck runway).
The other option is pretty easy. Just call it something else. Now, I don’t think the network would go for American Rub Our Dicks in Your Face for an Hour Story, so how about Jeff? Just call it Jeff. You know, the weird dude at the office who always strips at the holiday party. There is nothing ‘horror’ about it. It’s about as frightening as a slutty cat outfit. I mean, it fits with the theme, but giving it a coat of voluptuous breasts just doesn’t count. From now on, I’m calling it Jeff. Deal? Deal. Alright, my turn:
Is Ryan Murphy an artist? Or is he just a crazy person with too much money?
ALEX: Mooney, Mooney, Mooney, Mooney. Taste? Taste?!!! Why for the love of God would you ever want to give this show taste? That’s like saying you would improve upon the works of John Holmes by cutting his dick off. It certainly ain’t Ryan Murphy’s ability to capture the subtle shadings of the human condition that makes this thing work; it’s the fact that he is shoving a full foot of hot and throbbing manhood up inside you and punishing your insides like it’s fucking Nuremberg. The show is not weighed down by its excesses, it is defined by them.
And you wanna know why? It is because of something in the title that you have so conveniently chosen to overlook. (Please imagine that the word ‘conveniently‘ is uttered with a kind of Glenn-Beckian-level of sarcastic incredulity.) You were too focused on the words “Horror Story” to notice the word that preceded them. And that word is American, Mooney. American. As in, America. As in the country that invented the modern ideal of excess, the place that made a star out of Snookie. You mention Stanley Kubrick? An exile. You say Roman Polanski? A Polish guy. You say John Carpenter? I say…um…
Anyways, Mooney, America is not a place that subtle. And an American Horror Story is not gonna be a tale of winding passageways and ominous wainscotting. America was founded on bloody murder, an unhealthy obsession with sex, and a belief in our god-given-right to take whatever we damn well please. We literally fought an entire fucking war because half the country thought it was okay to own other human beings. We are not the kind of people who wait; we are the kind of people who smash, grab and shoot our way out. If someone is going to tell an American Horror Story, it is not going to be a slow and rising terror. It is going to be a nonstop battering ram of screaming, mutilation and ghost sex. Ryan Murphy has not given us the story we asked for, he has given us the story we deserve. This is America, goddamnit. If a shot lasted longer than two seconds or the camera wasn’t dangling from a crane like fucking Spiderman, we might lose interest and go back to our natural pursuits: hoarding gold, posting on conspiracy theorist message boards, and knitting cheerleader outfits for our dogs.
This brings me to the question you have laid, so elegantly, like a freshly-pressed houndstouth suit, before me: Is Ryan Murphy an artist? Or is he just a crazy person with too much money?
Oh Mooney, why the false choice? Can’t he be both? Instead of stopping at two roads diverging in a wood, can we not look at a bifurcated, diamond-encrusted, technicolor echidna penis and say that this too is art? Let us remember the words of one Pablo Picasso, who said, “Taste is the enemy of creativeness.” (Oh what, did I just quote Picasso at you? Hells yeah, bitch!)
To get real for second (Real real, son) I think that for any narrative piece of art to truly be considered a success, it need only to establish and then adhere to its own internal logic. This is something that I think both David Lynch and Joss Whedon actually do quite well; they create self-sustaining worlds, Lynch’s surreal, Whedon’s self-deflating. One those grounds, I think that American Horror Story actually does a pretty good job, the one exception being the Harmons, which is, of course, a problem as they are, like, the protagonists and shit. Maybe Vivian would actually be better without an actress like Britton, who is just so goddamn committed to playing actual hu-mans that she can never achieve the kind of sharply defined (aka cartoonish, but not necessarily in a bad way) performance that Ryan’s writing requires and that Jessica Lange delivers in spades. And perhaps Dylan McDermott took Ben’s somnambulism to heart and decided that an element of “sleep walking” should be suffused throughout his entire performance. (Plus, I think the character would honestly be better if he was always wearing that fucking hat that he wears when they first arrive at the house. At least then I would know that I am never supposed to ever be taking him seriously.)
The Harmons fail as characters because Murphy is attempting to write them as hu-mans, as pretty much regular joes with regular problems who just happen to get stuck in this crazy fucking murder house where ghosts in rubber suits engage in surprisingly unkinky sex with you and scary monsters live in the basement and Jessica Lange just exists. They are what happens when Murphy tries to engage with real failures, and it’s just awful. They are the show’s one major failing, the single tether that prevents this blimp of Boschean cray-cray from ascending to the heavens. Because they are meant to act like hu-mans they contradict the shows internal logic, or really its complete illogic. They are not fantastical, just false.
I guess this is all my (surprisingly serious) way of saying that, yes, I think that Ryan Murphy is an artist. He is simply one who should deal only in absurd abstraction, and never try to fuck with verisimilitude.
Or to put it another way, don’t piss in my face and tell me it’s raining. Instead, just piss in my face while crying into the night: BEHOLD MY GOLDEN STREAM ALL YE, AND DESPAIR!!! NOW ON WITH THE GHOST SEX!!!
ANDREW: Well, this conversation must continue! All the way through the rest of this shit-show of a season and into the next! What will await for us next time on American Horror Story? More rubber suit sex? More terrible cinematography? More cry-masturbating? Tune in next time when we recap the next 3 episodes!