For me, horror works best on TV in an anthology format, like Twilight Zone, Thriller, or Night Gallery. I'm not a big fan of hour-long dramas of any stripe, but I did enjoy several seasons of The X-Files, which for me worked best when it was almost like an anthology show, with Mulder and Scully investigating a new weird case each week, but then the background arc story stuff got too thick. I watched Supernatural for a few weeks, but it had the same background problems. This season, two new non-anthology horror shows have debuted and against my better judgment I sampled them.
American Horror Story, on FX, had promise, with one of the most traditional horror tropes at its center: the haunted house. A couple (Dylan McDermott and Connie Britton) move in to a house where people have either died under strange circumstances or been driven out by strange occurrences. Sure enough, there are ghosts, not just in the house but next door (the eccentric neighbor is Jessica Lange, seeming a stone's throw away from her Big Edie character in Grey Gardens). Dylan and Connie have moved in order to put the past behind them: she had a miscarriage, he had an affair, and their daughter is a cutter. But of course, things just get worse in the haunted house.
Each episode has a story that gets resolved, but the arc story is clearly more important, and there are some interesting plotlines set up. Lange's mentally disabled daughter has a disturbing tendency to 1) pop up in McDermott's house uninvited and 2) predict that people will die in the house. There is also a man in a leather fetish suit who has sex with Britton and gets her pregnant (she thinks it was her husband, but we know it wasn't). A disfigured former tenant of the house (Denis O'Hare, pictured with McDermott) shows up from time to time, trying to tell McDermott to get out of the house. But there is also the very tedious story of the messed-up daughter and her messed-up boyfriend (who might be one of the ghosts). There are R-rated obscenities, and almost R-rated nudity (Mr. McDermott is in damned good shape at 40), and a dark look and brutal tone which seem borrowed from movies like Saw.
Despite the promise, it failed to hook me after two episodes. The arc story lines are many, and like lots of arc-story shows, there's the feeling that either things won't get explained, or when they do, they'll seem stupid. None of the characters is sympathetic; in fact, I was kind of rooting for Jessica Lange to get rid of the whole bunch. Perhaps its biggest failing is the most obvious: why the hell are these people going to stay in this house for a full 13-week season? Next post: Grimm.