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MATT ZOLLER SEITZ: The awful brilliance of “American Horror Story”

MATT ZOLLER SEITZ: The awful brilliance of “American Horror Story”

As the high school dramedy sputters, its producers’ new show reaches crazy, brilliant heights.

By Matt Zoller Seitz
Press Play Contributor

Anybody who’s still watching Glee will testify to how awful last night’s episode was — and that’s quite a statement considering that even the most brilliant Glee installments flirt with awfulness. The bits with Mike O’Malley’s garage-owner character, Burt Hummell, running for Congress against Jane Lynch’s venemous Coach Sue were almost tolerable, but only because I love O’Malley and think he’s hugely underused. Much of the episode was dominated by tedious subplots in which 1) innocent/stupid Brittany thought that the Irish foreign exchange student (“Glee Project” winner Damian McGinty) staying with her family was a leprechaun, and 2) Will managed Kurt’s dad, Burt, in his surprise congressional run. Even the musical numbers flatlined. The best of the bunch, McGinty’s “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” was undercut by the ludicrous notion that a handsome young man with a great smile and an Irish accent would be ostracized anywhere, least of all in a Midwestern high school.

If “Glee” has, in fact, run out of steam, I suspect it’s because two of its executive producers, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, are busy putting out another series, FX’s American Horror Story (Wednesdays 10 p.m./9 Central). Like Glee, and like Nip/Tuck, which involved many of the same people, “AHS” flirts — nay tangos — with awfulness in every second of every episode. There is nothing, repeat nothing, subtle about this show, which chronicles the misadventures of a troubled couple, Vivien and Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott and Connie Britton) who buy a beautiful faux-Victorian house in L.A., and are haunted by the seemingly infinite number of violent acts that have taken place there and throughout the neighborhood. It’s a jumble of pathology and mayhem. There are present-day scenes and flashbacks and scenes in which flashback characters materialize in the present, interacting with one or more “regular” characters in real time as if they were flesh-and-blood people rather than ectoplasmic intruders or manifestations of mental illness. A 1920s woman who was married to a drug-addicted abortion doctor who performed Dr. Frankenstein-style experiments in his basement shows up in the present day, inspecting the house she once lived in. McDermott’s character, a therapist who sees patients in his haunted house, hallucinates that their pushing-60, one-eyed maid, Moira (Frances Conroy), is a bubble-butted 20-something and is relentlessly trying to seduce him. And who knows — maybe she is!

You can read the rest Matt’s piece here at Salon.

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

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