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AMERICAN HORROR STORY 1.01 ‘Pilot’

The Harmon family moves into a haunted house, with plenty of ghosts and rubber suits to spare.

Episode Title: "Pilot"

Writers: Ryan Murphy & Brad Falchuk
 
Director: Ryan Murphy
 
Premise:

In Los Angeles, an old Victorian home has been the site of murders and strange rituals. And now that the Harmon family has moved in, the supernatural forces within the house have new victims to play with. And it only gets stranger from there.

Story:

In 1978, a young girl named Addy warns a pair of rambunctious twins from entering an old Victorian home with a pair of baseball bats. The twins ignore her and begin thrashing the uninhabited home at their leisure. They find a dead animal and jars of human baby parts before one of them gets spooked enough to leave. But an apparition attacks the boys and they never leave the house alive. Jumping forward about 33 years, a woman named Vivien Harmon (Connie Britton) hears strange noises coming from her home and she calls the police before investigating with a knife. What she finds is her husband, Dr. Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott) having sex with a much younger woman.

Ben tries to chase after Vivian to explain, but she slashes him with the knife. Several months later, the Harmons are traveling by car to Los Angeles with their daughter, Violet (Taissa Farmiga). They come to the old Victorian home which has been restored and is up for sale. They love the house and the Realtor tells them that the reason it is so comparably cheap is that the previous owner murdered his lover and killed himself. Although Ben and Vivian are momentarily taken aback, Violet says that they will take the home. As the family unpacks, Ben and Vivian are noticeably distant, as he tries to get close and she tries to forgive him for his infidelity.

Soon after, Addy (Jamie Brewer) surprises Vivian within the house and tells her that she's going to die. A woman named Constance (Jessica Lange) enters and explains that her daughter is always breaking into the house and that she has Downs Syndrome. Constance settles down and doesn't seem to be in a hurry to leave until Vivian makes a point of asking her to go. At school, Violet is accosted by the local Mean Girls for smoking on campus. And Ben resumes operating as a therapist in his study with budding teenage psychopath, Tate Langdon (Evan Peters); who relates his vivid Columbine-like fantasies.

Adding to the weirdness, the Harmons discover a rubber suit in the attic that presumably belonged to the previous owners. Then there's Moira (Frances Conroy), the older woman who shows up in the backyard and introduces herself to Vivian as the former housekeeper of the previous owners. She's clearly a woman in her fifties or sixties, but only Ben can see her as Young Moira (Alex Breckenridge), a beautiful temptress who still has her youth. On her first day, Young Moira tries to entice Ben by letting him walk in on her playing with herself. When Ben runs off to cry and masturbate, he does so by the open window and catches sight of Larry Harvey (Denis O'Hare) watching from below. Did I mention that this show is very strange?

Because Ben apparently doesn't escort his patients out of the house after therapy, Tate comes across Violet cutting herself with a razor and he instructs her on the proper technique in slashing her wrists. Violet is initially put off, but she begins to hang out with Tate in their home until Ben catches them and throws Tate out. Ben then tries to report Tate for his violent fantasies, but he has trouble with remembering important details about him. Young Moira comes across Ben once again and she nearly succeeds in seducing him until Violet catches them in the act and runs off.

Later, Ben tries once again to initiate a romantic encounter with Vivian. When she refuses, he angrily asks how long she will punish him for being unfaithful? The Harmons proceed to have a brutal verbal confrontation that is actually more honest than they've been with each other for a long time. Finally, Vivian initiates a sexual encounter and they sleep together for the first time in a year. During the day, Ben goes for a jog and notices Larry following him. He confronts Larry to get him to stay away and Larry explains that he was a former owner of the house who was driven to kill his family by fire; which left him horribly scarred.

Larry also relates that the house has other symptoms and he asks Ben if he's been sleepwalking (which he has been). But Ben has heard enough and tells Larry to stay away. During one of the following nights, Ben sleepwalks into the kitchen and nearly burns himself on the stove until Constance appears and tells him that it isn't his time. In the bedroom, a man or a ghost in the rubber suit appears in the doorway and Vivian thinks that it is Ben. She lets the Rubber Suit Man have his way with her, but she seems surprised by his aggressiveness. Some time later, Ben enters still in a daze as Vivian struggles to say that she loves him. Both have no idea what just happened.

At school, Violet is tired of being bullied by the head Mean Girl, so following Tate's advice, she lures the Mean Girl to her home with the promise of free drugs. Once they are in the basement, Violet witnesses Tate turn out the lights as some kind of apparition attacks the Mean Girl and cuts her face, sending her running off in tears. Freaked out, Violet rejects Tate and runs away as well. In another part of the house, Moira catches Constance stealing some of Vivian's jewelry, but Constance warns Moira not to force her to "kill you again." In the closing moments, Vivian reveals to Ben that she is pregnant, but is the baby his or the Rubber Suit man's demon spawn?

Breakdown:

I have a theory about "American Horror Story." I believe that Ryan Murphy & Brad Falchuk are secretly aliens, or they have somehow managed to live their entire lives without actually meeting other people. 

How else would you explain characters as wildly unappealing as those that appear in "American Horror Story"? There's not a single person in the entire cast who the audience can really get behind or relate too. And for the most part, they barely resemble human beings. The one exception is the scene in which Ben and Vivian stop holding back and tell each other off for their failed marriage. That sequence was very well performed by Connie Britton and Dylan McDermott and for once, I could actually buy the Harmons as a couple with real relationship problems. That feeling didn't last.

It's also amazing that no one on the show has even a trace of common sense. Ben sees a potentially violent teen in his home… and he doesn't think it's a good idea to walk him to the door? No, it's much better to let him walk around his house and befriend his daughter. With better writing, Violet could have been the defacto lead after her parents, but everything in her story felt like it was pulled from the "Nip/Tuck" version of "Glee." Some of the ghost sequences are genuinely creepy, but these paper thin characters aren't going to work on a weekly TV series. If "American Horror Story" was a 90 minute movie, the character's deficiencies may not have been as noticeable. But if we're going to speed 13 episodes with these people, we should at least be able to care about them. 

From Tate's appearance during the basement scene, it looks like he's another physical apparition haunting the house. It also could explain why he, Constance and Addy seem to have no trouble entering the house at will. Presumably, Moira is also a ghost if Constance really has killed her in the past. So, if we're taking it on faith that all four of these characters have supernatural ties to the house, the main question is what do they get out of tormenting the Harmon family? They're not any more compelling than the Harmons are, but I did enjoy the switches between Young and Old Moira.

One of the few intriguing elements of the show is that the house apparently already has some level of control over Ben, and he may even be the Rubber Suit man without even realizing it. The house itself is also well designed as a haunted playground. If Murphy & Falchuk can scare up some character development and actually get us to care about these people, then "American Horror Story" could have real potential.

But for now it pales in comparison to the other programs on FX and it feels out of place on a network that rarely makes a misstep with drama.

Crave Online Rating: 5.5 out of 10.