For the record I’ve been watching American Horror Story since Day 1 and, still, the first season, “Murder House”, is my favorite. It was an effectively simple story about an old haunted house that a couple new to Los Angeles moved into–with all the crazy and deadly secrets that came with it.
Now that we’re on to Season 5, I have to say… that within the first few minutes of the opening I was reminded of that first season, and thinking that creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk might be going back to their roots.
Yeah…probably not. Crap.
In fact, the only thing that this and “Murder House” have in common is a creepy, Gothic building in LA. The setting, this time around, is called the Hotel Cortez. The hotel has no Wi-Fi, no cell signal, and the rooms smell like death, and — somehow — that’s not a red flag to customers. There’s a massive supernatural element going on in this place, with undead zombies in the beds and albino white monsters showing up in mirrors.
It’s inhabitants are the likes of the devilish, cross dressing man named Liz Taylor (Denis O’Hare – Dallas Buyers Club, True Blood), a cranky hotel desk clerk (Kathy Bates – Misery, About Schmidt), a punked out drug addict (Sarah Paulson – Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip), and it’s vicious sadomasochistic couple of Donovan (Matt Bomer – White Collar) and The Countess Elizabeth (Lady Gaga in her AHS debut). Despite all these unique characters and rich talents there is hardly any substantial story or plot building dialogue.
Sure, towards the end of the episode they start giving us some insight into the origins of this collection of misfits, so there’s still a glimmer of hope; but the immediate problem in comparison to past seasons in this series just seems so focused on how outlandish and shocking they can make scenes instead of creating a solid foundation for storytelling to ride out the rest of the 13 episodes. Case in point – the music video style of introducing The Countess and Donovan with a blood drenched four-way orgy with two random strangers they pick up one night. I mean Gaga in nothing but pasties and panties is hard to not love, but the scene could’ve been put almost anywhere in the episode and I don’t think it would’ve mattered. It was all about Gaga and Ryan Murphy trying to make a big splash with her character and her fans.
The bright spot is definitely the story headed by Detective John Lowe (Wes Bentley – The Hunger Games, American Beauty) who is on the hunt for a serial killer (what is with AHS and serial killers?!) who keeps leaving elaborate and ritualistic murder scenes for Lowe to find. He’s a dedicated family man whose love for his daughter is the centers the character and gives him heart which has you pulling for him right away. There is a drive and purpose to his mission which the Hotel Cortez bunch are really lacking.
Many of the best aspects of AHS are still here, though. The Ryan Murphy directed pilot is chock full of the usual theatrical cinematography, stellar musical choices, and impressive performances. Lady Gaga doesn’t have the largest amount of screen time in the pilot but, for the time she is on she holds her own and delivers. I’m more curious about her being the anchor for the show now that Jessica Lange has left and if she can carry such a weight in the infancy of her acting career. Even though this wasn’t the best start after all these seasons I have every faith that this show will grow and thrive into a better series.
I’m not sure how long I would tell you to stay, but perhaps you ought not to check out quite yet.