The roller coaster ride that was AMERICAN HORROR STORY’s first season has come to an end, but it’s more like last week’s “Birth” was the final exciting loop, while “Afterbirth” was the bumpy but ultimately straight ride back to the platform. Most of the season had been chock-full of crazy plots, characters, visuals, etc., and even if they weren’t necessarily good, they were at least engaging. “Afterbirth,” on the other hand, was just pretty dull.
Well, that may have been one of the most anticlimactic TV deaths I’ve seen in a long time.
Contractually, Connie Britton must be signed for all 13 episodes this season, because why else would she make a one-scene appearance in this episode? Violet, Constance, and Larry have all had weeks off, so it’s not like everyone gets used every week. Vivien’s scene just felt like it was there because Britton had to have some screen time, and to remind people that, hey, Vivien is still in the mental hospital! But it had little connection to the rest of the episode, which functioned more as an info-dump about Violet’s situation and the history between Constance and Larry.
The previews at the end of last week’s episode, “Rubber Man,” made it look like “Spooky Little Girl” was going to take a sharp right turn into Dan Brown-style religious conspiracy. I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to that, so I guess I was happy that it only took up the last two minutes of the episode, but what a strange two minutes they were. Billie Dean gives Constance a long spiel about “the Pope’s box,” which somehow leads to the explanation that Vivien’s half human/half spirit child will be the antichrist. The reveal wasn’t all that shocking, considering the conversation Vivien had with her ultrasound technician in a church a few weeks back (plus the fact that, well, what else could that baby be?). Thankfully, the rest of the episode focused on a differently mythology: namely, the Black Dahlia, aka Elizabeth Short, who (of course) died in the house.
AMERICAN HORROR STORY isn’t like every other show on television. How do we know that? Not because a key plot point is that a ghost in a rubber gimp suit had sex with a main character, and is now in love/sleeping with that character’s daughter. Not because, on an even simpler level, a key plot point is a rubber gimp suit. No – AHS is unlike every other TV show because it aired a new episode the night before Thanksgiving that had nothing to do with the holiday!
We’ve now passed the halfway point for the first season of AMERICAN HORROR STORY and now, more than ever, it looks like the long-term plan is to keep the house front and center, with the occupants perhaps rotating through. Even though the potential buyer is no longer in any position to purchase the lot for his new development, Ben and Vivien are still set on selling the house (even if Violet’s attachment to it looks like it might change their minds), and Constance will do anything to keep the mansion standing. There’s still a lot that needs to play out with the Harmons, but it seems clear that, whatever ends up happening to them, Constance, the house, and all of its otherworldly inhabitants are sticking around.
As for “Open House” specifically, it’s fitting that it marked the middle of the season, since it was a pretty middle-of-the-road episode. We got a lot more backstory for Larry and the Montgomerys, but other than that (plus a horribly sexist prospective home buyer), there wasn’t much new to offer in this Brad Falchuk-penned installment.
After tying up the Halloween two-parter last week, AMERICAN HORROR STORY was back to business as usual last night. That meant no Hayden, no Chad, no Larry, no gimp suit. Instead, we got Eric Stonestreet guest starring as a man with a crippling fear of urban legends (fitting that MODERN FAMILY had the night off), Sarah Paulson as a medium employed by Constance, and Vivien causally eating brains. (So I guess “usual” is relative.)
We’re now five episodes into AMERICAN HORROR STORY (which just got picked up for a second season), and things finally seem to be headed somewhere. In the first few episodes, some groundwork was laid for both the characters and the mythology, but it got swallowed up by body parts in glass jars, off-putting camera angles, and Dylan McDermott’s yelling. Those elements are all still very much present, but they now feel like part of the show’s fabric, rather than Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk simply trying to make a classic horror pastiche to prove they’ve watched ROSEMARY’S BABY. The result? An increasingly entertaining and captivating series that could actually pass the “it’s so bad it’s good” bar some time in the near future.
For a show that seems to be more a collection of ideas and concepts than an actual coherent whole, Halloween sounds like the type of occasion where AMERICAN HORROR STORY could go all-out and completely off the rails. Yet, surprisingly, “Halloween, Part 1” was the series’ most restrained, and best, episode to date; we’ll see where things go in Part 2 next week, but for now it looks like having a central focus for everything to revolve around works in the show’s favor.
Although the AMERICAN HORROR STORY timeline is a little unclear, it seems safe to assume the Harmons have not been living in Los Angeles for very long; in any case, it has only been three episodes for the audience. Almost immediately, though, from the very beginning of the series, a large question loomed over the proceedings: Why would they stay in this clearly haunted house for even one more day, let alone a whole TV season?
After a completely off-the-walls premiere which established that anything and everything could happen in the Harmons’ new mansion, AMERICAN HORROR STORY settled down a bit in episode two – which is to say, it contained ipecac syrup cupcakes, 1960s murder reenactors, and a mirror-filled punishment closet for Addy, but, you know, no gimp suits or Dylan McDermott masturbation. So that’s something.
About two-thirds of the way through the series premiere of AMERICAN HORROR STORY, as they stare at the freshly uncovered murals in their new parlor room, Ben Harmon (Dylan McDermott) tells wife Vivien (Connie Britton) a story one of his psychology professors once told him. “People tell stories to cope with their fears,” he tells her. “All art is created to give us some sense of control.”
If that is, in fact, the case, then Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have some pretty intense fears and control issues. The GLEE co-creators have returned to FX (where they worked together on the Murphy-created NIP/TUCK) to bring to life their vision of one of the most disturbing, chaotic, and bizarre series television has ever seen. It’s sure to polarize viewers, but one thing is for sure: there’s nothing else like AMERICAN HORROR STORY.
It’s the nature of the television business: Popular shows can’t just call it quits if a lead actor opts not to renew his or her contract. Even though their ratings tend to decline over the years as costs only increase, these hits are simply too valuable for the networks to let them go. Success stories are hard to come by, and thus the networks have to milk the ones they have for all they’re worth, even if it means replacing a beloved lead character.
This TV season, the doctrine of longevity over creativity is rearing its head on several different series, most notably THE OFFICE and LAW & ORDER: SVU on NBC, and TWO AND A HALF MEN and the original CSI on CBS. (HOUSE, on Fox, is also losing a major player in Lisa Edelstein, but since the medical drama is more the Hugh Laurie Show than anything else, and Huddy broke up last season anyway, the writers should be able to handle that one no problem.)
“Take 5” gives Team GMMR (and YOU) a chance to look back to yesteryear and share 5 memorable episodes from some of our favorite shows of the past. A walk down memory lane and back in time to revisit some of the best of the best of TV.
Today, our newest contributor, Ben Phelps, shares his five favorite episodes of the hit cult show and soon to be full length featured film (which of course I’ll believe when I see), ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT.
ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT Take 5 by Ben Phelps
Before last fall, during which we were given “Modern Family,” “Community,” and the astronomical improvement in “Parks and Recreation,” TV writers and viewers were lamenting the death of television comedy. After all, “Seinfeld” and “Friends” had ended years earlier and “The Office” and “30 Rock” were the only successful comedies to have launched in recent memory. Additionally, “Arrested Development,” one of TV’s best comedies – and series in general – of all time, had come and gone with no more than a cult following.
The latter beloved comedy was canceled all too soon in 2006, but besides its unceremonious four-episode finale marathon opposite the Winter Olympics, Fox at least gave it a fair shot. In the end, we were left with three seasons and 53 episodes of “the story of a wealthy family who lost everything, and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together.” And really, with no bad episodes in the entire run, that’s not too shabby, even if it does make a Top 5 list incredibly difficult and subjective.
Nevertheless, I made one, and I’m sure everyone will have different opinions on my picks. But with that, here are my five favorite episodes of “Arrested Development.”
5. Good Grief (2.04)
Like any great “Arrested” episode, “Good Grief” gives us a number of running jokes and references that you have to watch a few times to really appreciate. George Michael is still the only one to see Egg’s – er, Ann’s – appeal (or to even remember her name), George Sr. is drawn being dipped into a Cornballer in the Mexican newspaper reporting his death, and Oscar once again drops a hint that he is Buster’s real father (but of course it goes right over his head). The beauty of these jokes here, though, is that they are coming out of a story in which the whole Bluth family is interacting, not only with each other but also with supporting characters like Ann, Barry, and bounty hunter/party planner ICE. This cast was one of the best comedy ensembles ever, and episodes like this – even though they were ostensibly gathered to mourn George Sr.’s death – showed just how funny and in sync they could be.
This episode also features the first appearance of Gob’s magician rival Tony Wonder (though only through photograph), as well as the first time George Sr. says he was a patsy in the Iraq housing contracts, a claim that becomes much more prevalent later in the second, and into the third, season. So a hilarious episode that calls back to previous events, moves along the current arcs, and lays groundwork for future plots? Yep, that deserves a spot.