You know when you watched The Ring for the first time and you saw Amber Tamblyn's face get all black and gunky as she died from watching the tape and you were so scared that you screamed, jumped in the air, wet yourself, or a combination of all three? Yeah, that was awful. The next time you watched it you still appreciated how creepy it was, but the impact was sort of lost on you. That is what the second season of American Horror Story is like: creepy, but not making it necessary to wear Depends when you cue it up on the DVR.
When I first heard that Ryan Murphy, the show's co-creator, decided that each season would have a new cast and a new story, I thought it was a blessing. Mr. Murphy, for all of his gifts, seems to have the showrunner equivalent of ADD, turning what is a promising program into something of an overstuffed shambles after only more than a season. What better way to stop his creative compulsions than to rebuild each year. The problem is, when rebuilding, we get a machine that operates much like the one before. The thing about horror, as we learned from The Ring, is that when we know what's coming it's not as scary.
In the second season we get Jessica Lange praying a crazy lady who may or may not be evil. There is an old, creepy doctor doing experiments in the basement. There is an older lady who likes to dress up in kinky lingerie and seduce men even though she finds them disgusting. There are nymphomaniacs, homosexuals, killers, gratuitous nude shots, a mysterious central figure whose identity is obscured by a mask, and Evan Peters playing a young man who may or may not be insane. Sound familiar? It's like instead of baking from scratch Murphy is using the same Duncan Hines mix, but only in a different flavor.
That's not to say that the hour isn't as much fun as taking a second trip through a haunted pumpkin patch. There are lots of campy goodness and plenty of mysteries to be solved. The cast is great, the setting sufficiently spooky, and the man-ass on display sufficiently perky. And just what are the creatures lurking in the woods? Just what is the beast that lies behind that door? Is Adam Levine really going to die? If he does, who is The Voice going to find to sit in his spinny chair? All of these questions will make me tune in week after week, but more to satisfy my curiosity rather than to see if my stomach will feel like it's going to fall out of my body the whole time, like it did last year.
There are some essential differences in this Asylum, and most of them are what is really troubling about this new season. The first is the framing device of "the lovers," played by the aforementioned Levine and Jenna Dewan-Tatum. Last year, each episode opened with a crime that happened in the haunted house, a good way to introduce the action in the present day while delving deeper into the house's past. This year it's the opposite. We get these two on the run from a serial killer in the modern day which sets up how he got there in the past--something that seems like it will get stale after dragged out over 12 installments. How many times can they be trapped in a corner and narrowly escape before we just want the killer to hurry up and get it over with?
The other problem is...well...it's aliens. There are aliens. Kit, the supposed Bloody Face killer (but if you really think he's Bloody Face you need to take Horror Movie Formula 101) is institutionalized after his wife disappears and is skinned. It appears that this was actually done by aliens in a ship who also captured Kit and implanted some sort of SIM card chip insect thing in his neck. Now, I'm in for all sorts of ghosts, goblins, monsters, mutants, and other psychological terrors, but this is not The X-Files. I don't think I want aliens.
Sure, this show has always touted the supernatural, but the real terror came from how those beasts were created. The real psychological torture of this show is contemplating the things that are real, like serial killers, infidelity, incarceration, losing a loved one, going insane, losing control, those you wrong seeking bloody vengeance. Thinking that you could be easily committed to a mental institution just like Lana is more terrifying than all the sado-masochistic nuns in the world. (And I went to Catholic school, so I should know!) That is what keeps you up at night, not that the things that will never happen--like, say, aliens--but the things that do happen all the time. If the show can remember this, and still manage to throw in a curveball or two, it might manage to pull off a similar machine as the last time.
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
[Photo Credit: FX]
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Bo (Seann William Scott) and Luke (Johnny Knoxville) Duke are cousins--two hell-raisers who drive fast sell moonshine and bed sexy farm girls all across Georgia's Hazzard County. They've got another cousin Daisy Duke (Jessica Simpson) a drop-dead hottie who waits tables at the local watering hole. If someone gets a little too friendly with the gal she's knocks 'em on their ass--and if her cousins get into trouble she shakes hers to get them out of it. Then there's Uncle Jesse Duke (Willie Nelson) who makes the moonshine on his farm tells bad jokes and sings country-western songs. I can't quit thinking about how the Duke family dynamics work. They're all tight-knit cousins right? But Uncle Jesse isn't the father to any of them. So like where's the rest of the Dukes? There's gotta be other siblings parents maybe. It perplexes me. But I digress. Suffice to say the Dukes are always outrunning--and out-jumping--the local law enforcement in their souped-up Dodge Charger the General Lee. The boys are also constantly doing battle with the crooked county commissioner Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds) who cooks up one nefarious plan after another to make Hazzard County his own personal cash cow only to be thwarted by those darn Dukes. Dagnabbit.
Although some diehard fans of the TV show may disagree the casting for this feature film redo is pretty spot on. Knoxville and Scott do just fine as the rip-roarin' Duke cousins bantering about one upping each other--you know boys stuff. Nelson's still got the whole pigtail thing going for him but he looks like he's having a good time. Reynolds does too but he's definitely a lot slicker--and a lot better looking--than the show's original Boss Hogg Sorrell Booke. As the bumbling police veteran character actor M.C. Gainey who always plays bad guys at least gets to show off some comedy chops as Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane. Michael Weston (Garden State) as the wimpy Deputy Enos Strate is sufficiently reduced to a puddle whenever Daisy is around. And then there's Simpson. My my my. It's obvious the camera (and whose ever behind it) loves every inch of her and she tends to light up the screen whenever she's on it. Of course playing Daisy in her acting debut isn't much of a stretch but Simpson still shows a comic flair. The singer-turned-actress could actually become a fairly serviceable comedic actress if she plays her cards right.
This is what director Jay Chandrasekhar (Super Troopers) had to say about making The Dukes of Hazzard: "I had a poster of Daisy Duke [played in the original show by Catherine Bach] on my wall when I was nine that was very inspiring and when you combine the prospect of a new Daisy Duke with the opportunity to send the General Lee flying through the air again it was impossible for me to say no." Well Jay actually you could have said no and maybe the whole Hazzard as a feature idea would have gone away. It's perfectly suitable to have a television show be about nothing but cars flying through the air hot women in skimpy clothes and idiotic behavior. We'll always accept brain-friendly crap on TV. But to be subjected to an entire feature-length film of mindless stupidity is just too much at least in Hazzard's case. Sure watching the General Lee perform seemingly impossible stunts is fun. Apparently 28 Dodge Chargers had to be converted into the multiple General Lees needed for the film and the parts had to be hunted down on the Internet in junkyards or by word of mouth. Still after about the 100th time the car jumps over something you've had quite enough.