Ellen Gray: 'Horror' is spattered with cliches

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* AMERICAN HORROR STORY. 10 tonight, FX.

* GEORGE HARRISON: LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD. 9 tonight and tomorrow, HBO.

 

IN A COUNTRY full of people stuck in houses they can't afford and can't sell, you don't have to look far to find a horror story.

The American Dream-turned-nightmare isn't nearly scary enough for "Glee" producers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, whose latest production, FX's "American Horror Story," mines its blood-spattered genre for one cliche after another to tell the story of a couple whose lack of due diligence - starting with a failure to Google their prospective new address - results in the worst case of buyer's remorse since the Lutz family moved into that house in Amityville.

I'm not exactly a walking encyclopedia of horror movies. So if I say "American Horror Story" felt to me like a 10-car pileup of themes and ideas I'd encountered elsewhere, true horror fans should read that as an indication that there's a terrific drinking game premiering on FX tonight.

Dylan McDermott stars as psychiatrist Ben Harmon, who has moved from Boston to Los Angeles with his wife, Vivien (Connie Britton), and daughter, Violet (Tessa Farmiga), seeking a fresh start for his troubled marriage.

Murphy, who before "Glee" was responsible for FX's popular but often loathsome "Nip/Tuck," is not a subtle writer, and McDermott, who starred in David E. Kelley's "The Practice," has demonstrated a willingness to work with that.

But Britton, whose Tami Taylor was the heart and soul of "Friday Night Lights," is used to writing that respects the actor's (and the viewer's) ability to fill in what's not spelled out.

As the one character who grounds a story that would otherwise seem like a random collection of bad things happening to so-so people, Britton's the only reason I could imagine watching "American Horror Story" past the three episodes I've seen. She's also why I probably won't bother.

Because I don't just want Britton out of that house. I want her out, period.

If there's time, I'd also rescue Jessica Lange - who plays Constance, the Harmons' caustic neighbor, whose connection to their house will become gradually more evident - and Frances Conroy, who's the housekeeper. Except when she's not.

As anyone who's been watching (and complaining) about Fox's "Terra Nova" knows, TV shows get held to different standards than two-hour blockbusters, where it's only the immediate sensations that count. String something over a 13-week season and it's easy to become too sensational, to have too much plot (and, as a result, too little suspense) and to treat characters like pawns, not people.

If there's horror here, it's that some good people have been fooled into thinking that "American Horror Story" was worth their sweat equity. It's not.

This one's not a fixer-upper: It's a tear-down.

 

The elusive Beatle

There's a truly horrifying story recounted toward the end of Martin Scorsese's nearly four-hour documentary, "George Harrison: Living in the Material World," which HBO is presenting in two parts beginning tonight.

It involves a 1999 home invasion at the late former Beatle's residence in which he was seriously injured (his wife, Olivia, most likely saved his life by taking on his knife-wielding attacker). It's an incident I'd almost forgotten but is all the scarier for the unhysterical way that it's presented.

I've loved the Beatles since I was 7 years old, but I wouldn't have thought that there was this much to be said about one not named John or Paul. "Living in the Material World" finds plenty to say, though, particularly in the final two hours, when Olivia Harrison's honesty contributes mightily to Scorsese's portrait of an artist more interesting than some of us may have realized.

 


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