Before they brought high school karaoke to Fox, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk revelled in the dark and sexy world of plastic surgery on FX's Nip/Tuck. With their latest, American Horror Story, the pair return to their former cable network, turning their grim eye towards a suburban family terrorized by the chilling secrets hidden within their new home.
Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott) is a therapist and things have been off with his wife Vivien (Connie Britton) and daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga) ever since he was caught cheating a short while after the family suffered a traumatic miscarriage. In an attempt to give his broken a home a fresh start, Ben uproots them from Boston to California, where they purchase a house that has something of a checkered past. Flashbacks to the earlier days of the dwelling clue us in on the horrors that lurk within, the Harmons' realtor informs them that the previous owners didn't leave alive and a mysterious man with burns over half his body (Denis O'Hare) warns Ben of the danger they are all in. Despite all the foreboding clues, the Harmons can't resist the discount price. The house even comes complete with a maid (who the women of the house see as the more matronly Frances Conroy, but Ben sees as the tempting Alexandra Breckenridge) and an eccentric neighbor (Jessica Lange).
American Horror Story would perhaps convey its contents better if it were called American Horror Cliché as the show seems to just be an odd patchwork of weird and quirky things that Murphy and Falchuk absorbed while watching horror films as children. What results is a mess of items that can be, on occasion, freaky but are never really scary. Perhaps the greatest sin of this series, though, is that it fails to leverage its greatest commodity, a superb cast. Despite having gathered the likes of Britton, Lange and O'Hare, the characters in American Horror Story could just as easily be replaced with scarecrows, such is the lack of any true definition in any of the people they play. What's more, it's hard to imagine how the creators will manage to convincingly keep the Harmon family in this house of horrors on a week-to-week basis without the audience losing any interest in what happens to them.
American Horror Story premieres Wednesday 9pm on FX.