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MATT ZOLLER SEITZ: The controlled madness of AMERICAN HORROR STORY

Press Play By Matt Zoller Seitz | Press Play December 6, 2011 at 11:29PM

This may be the line that Jessica Lange was born to say, in the role she was born to play, on a TV show perfectly suited to her fluttery intensity. That she delivered it over a tight shot of a ham festooned with moist pineapple slices being thrust into the camera’s lens — as if the show were being broadcast in 3-D! — made it a perfect kick-off to “Smoldering Children,” the 10th episode of the first season of American Horror Story. Written by X-Files veteran James Wong and directed by Michael Lehmann (Heathers), the hour greatly escalated the madness on this already demented show. Created by Glee executive producers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, the series seems to be inventing a new kind of horror — a 21st-century, short-attention-span-theater version, with no lulls. The traditional buildup to the big scare? Booooo-ring. Perhaps operating under the assumption — not unwarranted — that most viewers are watching the program on DVR or illegal download and will just fast-forward to the “good parts” anyhow, they’ve decided to save us all the bother. Every few seconds there’s a fabulously bitchy one-liner, a grim bit of exposition or a surprisingly deft transition between the two, or a beating or stabbing or disembowelment or horrendous searing of flesh, or a faintly S&M-dungeon-flavored sex scene, or a revelation that a character you thought was alive was actually dead all along, or that the heroine has been impregnated by both her husband and by a black-rubber-suited spectral hunk and is carrying both of their children.
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American Horror Story knife guy

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following article contains spoilers for American Horror Story season one, episode 10, "Smoldering Children." Read at your own risk.

“Ladies and gentlemen … the ham.”

This may be the line that Jessica Lange was born to say, in the role she was born to play, on a TV show perfectly suited to her fluttery intensity. That she delivered it over a tight shot of a ham festooned with moist pineapple slices being thrust into the camera’s lens — as if the show were being broadcast in 3-D! — made it a perfect kick-off to “Smoldering Children,” the 10th episode of the first season of American Horror Story.

Written by X-Files veteran James Wong and directed by Michael Lehmann (Heathers), the hour greatly escalated the madness on this already demented show. Created by Glee executive producers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, the series seems to be inventing a new kind of horror — a 21st-century, short-attention-span-theater version, with no lulls. The traditional buildup to the big scare? Booooo-ring. Perhaps operating under the assumption — not unwarranted — that most viewers are watching the program on DVR or illegal download and will just fast-forward to the “good parts” anyhow, they’ve decided to save us all the bother. Every few seconds there’s a fabulously bitchy one-liner, a grim bit of exposition or a surprisingly deft transition between the two, or a beating or stabbing or disembowelment or horrendous searing of flesh, or a faintly S&M-dungeon-flavored sex scene, or a revelation that a character you thought was alive was actually dead all along, or that the heroine has been impregnated by both her husband and by a black-rubber-suited spectral hunk and is carrying both of their children.

What happened tonight? Let’s review — with the caveat that when you describe the actual events on this show, they sound like the plot of a hypothetical horror novel being plotted out by a couple of precocious 13-year-olds.

You can read the rest of Matt's article here at Salon.

Matt Zoller Seitz is publisher of Press Play and TV critic for Salon.

This article is related to: Matthew Zoller Seitz, American Horror Story, Television


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