American Horror Story Review: The Wrong Kind of Fear

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My biggest fear regarding American Horror Story isn't related to any dire warnings of death, or any half-burned former owners or even any basement-dwelling ghosts.

It's simply this: that the new show from the minds of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck will focus a lot more on the horror than the story.

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Based on the series premiere, this drama isn't lacking interesting characters.

There's enough going on with Ben and Vivian Harmon (Dylan McDermott and Connie Britton, respectively, the latter in a role as opposite as humanly possible from Mrs. Coach on Friday Night Lights) to keep me intrigued, and Jessica Lange's Constance likely has a layered backstory, although it would help if the actress dialed down her performance a few hundred notches.

However, the pilot didn't really spend a lot of time with the couple, choosing instead to amp up their shady surroundings. There are weird images here, strange sounds there, a history of residential murders going back decades. Sprinkle in these haunting teases around characters that are struggling in other ways with their everyday lives and you may have something.

But American Horror Story doesn't want to take that path, which is consistent with Murphy and Falchuck's resume. In both shows these two have collaborated on in the past (Nip/Tuck and Glee), the pair seemed to take joy in just seeing what they could get away with. There wasn't a focus on consistent storytelling as much as there was on crossing lines, taking chances, trying to send messages they believed to be profound or important to society.

And there's some merit in that. I have no doubt many viewers will love American Horror Story, if only because it's different than anything else on television. I'd certainly prefer to watch it over yet another CBS procedural.

I just need more for my viewing pleasure than a furrowed brow. The aim of a series can't be solely to leave viewers asking WTF at the end of every episode, or, heck, every scene. Here, for example, there were some tantalizing mysteries, the main one centering around Constance's message to Frances Conroy's maid: Don't make me kill you again. It's also safe to assume that Vivian's baby doesn't belong to her husband (you really do need to leave logic at the door here, considering Vivian and Ben had make up sex - after almost a year without it - one moment, and the next moment she's nonchalant and open about another round... with her partner in a rubber S&M suit.).

Will these mysteries ever get answered, though? Or will the resolution always be the same: the house is haunted. Anything can happen. Again, that's my fear. I don't envision the series going anyplace except to whatever creepy destination Murphy and Falchuk wish to take it on a weekly basis, consistency, logic and character development be damned.

Yes, though, this is presuming a great deal. For now, I'll reserve judgment and wait to see if there's a real story behind American Horror Story. What did everyone else think?

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Review

Editor Rating: 3.0 / 5.0
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Matt Richenthal is the Editor in Chief of TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter and on Google+.

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