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A Second Season? The Horror! The (Potential) (But Avoidable) Horror!

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
November 1, 2011

Halloween is over, but the freak in the rubber suit lives on. Yesterday, FX announced that it ordered a second season of American Horror Story, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s creepy series about a family living in a haunted house. That’s great news, so long as the creators keep their promises.

A few months ago, Murphy and Falchuk told everyone—including the cast—that American Horror Story’s central family would only stick around for a season. They suggested the house itself would be the real “star,” getting new residents to terrorize every year.

That idea plays to their strengths. Glee and Nip/Tuck, their other hit series, started well by introducing stylish, high-concept worlds, but when it was time to replace razzle-dazzle with nuanced storytelling, they fell apart. Plot lines were forgotten or contradicted, characters seemed to get new personalities every week, and stories were replaced by gimmicks. Without logical or emotional consistency — without something human to believe in — the shows became infuriating. (For me, at least.)

American Horror Story’s already facing similar problems, but for now, that’s okay. After just four episodes, I’m still distracted by its stylish insanity. Next-door neighbor Constance (Jessica Lange) might be an inauthentic Southern caricature, but her nutty proclamations are surprising enough to keep me entertained. Subplots might be implausible, but the actors are chewing so much scenery and the cinematography is so sumptuous that I don’t care.

As for the central family: Vivien and Ben Harmon (Connie Britton and Dylan McDermott) are total blanks. Sure, he’s had “an affair” and they’re having “financial trouble,” but those are mostly excuses to keep them living in the murder house. There’s really nothing to these people, except their willingness to sleep above a basement full of pickled baby parts.

But if they’re dead (or fled) by the end of the year, what does it matter? If the main character really is the house, then we don’t need to get to know who’s living in it. We just need a general outline that justifies the horrifying fun.

If the Harmons stick around, though, their blankness will become a liability, and like I said, I don’t trust Murphy and Falchuk to flesh them out. I hope the renewal order doesn’t tempt them to keep the family alive and screaming. I hope they stick to their vows and deliver season after season of glossy spectacle, creating a new cardboard family every year. That’ll be entertaining and delicious — and sometimes, that’s enough.

Mark Blankenship (@CritCondition) wants to know how Ben could’ve called Tate’s mother a few weeks ago, since Tate is clearly a ghost. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

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