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Ryan Murphy (#110 of 20)

American Horror Story: Cult Recap Episode 1, “Election Night”

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American Horror Story: Cult Recap: Episode 1, “Election Night”

FX

American Horror Story: Cult Recap: Episode 1, “Election Night”

After years of trying to conjure up a universal boogeymen with which to tap into the primal fears of Americans, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have landed almost effortlessly on target. “Election Night,” the first episode of American Horror Story: Cult, knows exactly how to trigger us; in fact, that’s the modus operandi of the show’s central antagonist, Kai Anderson (Evan Peters). This anarchist’s most terrifying moment isn’t when he rubs blended orange Cheetos all over his face in a send-up of Glenn Beck’s mocking of Donald Trump, or the thought of him donning a three-faced clown mask to terrorize his fellow Americans, but when he calmly walks into a local city council meeting, clad in a suit, to suggest that government allow fear to reign. “Haven’t you been watching what’s been going on in the world?” he asks.

American Horror Story: Freak Show Recap Episode 4, "Edward Mordrake (Part 2)"

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American Horror Story: Freak Show Recap: Episode 4, “Edward Mordrake (Part 2)”

FX

American Horror Story: Freak Show Recap: Episode 4, “Edward Mordrake (Part 2)”

“Edward Mordrake (Part 2)” finds Freak Show wallowing in the sort of dull, meaningless outlandishness that usually sets in right around the halfway mark of any given season of American Horror Story. Creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk seem to forget that if everything is “shocking” and “subversive,” then nothing is, as there’s no contrast between conventionality and deviation to produce the sort of dramatic friction that’s necessary to sustain something like 95 percent of all fiction. The problem with American Horror Story writ large is that there’s never any patience exhibited, never any sense of shocks being actively prepared for. For a few episodes, this speed-freakiness doesn’t necessarily matter, as TV shows are obviously playing the long game and need to instill in the viewer a notion of the stakes from the outset. But it’s becoming clear that there aren’t any stakes in Freak Show, and that the characters, who are barely characters, are going to say and do things whenever it’s convenient, because Murphy and Falchuk can’t ever be bothered to construct a coherent scenario with which to govern their admittedly impressive sense of atmosphere.

American Horror Story: Freak Show Recap Episode 1, "Monsters Among Us"

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American Horror Story: Freak Show Recap: Episode 1, “Monsters Among Us”

FX

American Horror Story: Freak Show Recap: Episode 1, “Monsters Among Us”

American Horror Story: Freak Show opens on a strikingly cockeyed image of a woman’s head sticking out of the bottom corner of the right side of the frame in such a fashion as to suggest an ambulatory human mushroom. Even if you haven’t seen any of Freak Show’s publicity photos, you instinctively know something’s off. The woman appears to be profoundly uncomfortable, contorted, the remainder of her unseen body walking toward the camera with dreamy slowness, a title telling us that we’re in Jupiter, Florida in 1952. In this one image, the majesty and dread that leaked out of Coven by the end of its season is restored to American Horror Story. It’s clear that creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have returned ready to play.

2014 Emmy Winner Predictions

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2014 Emmy Winner Predictions
2014 Emmy Winner Predictions

Glancing over this year’s Emmy nominations is to marvel again at just how much the television landscape has changed in 20 years. Back in 1993, The Larry Sanders Show became the first cable TV program to be nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series. Only one non-network sitcom has ever claimed that award (Sex and the City in 2001), but the sheer number of nominations and wins that cable programs garner each year continues to signal the future of television programming. And one of the more pressing questions that will be answered this year is whether the Emmys are ready to embrace online TV creators such as Netflix with prizes in its top two categories for either House of Cards, nominated for 13 awards, or Orange Is the New Black, nominated for 12, more than any other comedy. Elsewhere, the sense of “importance” with which Ryan Murphy’s The Normal Heart has been greeted by critics and audiences has made nearly ever miniseries or movie category a no-brainer to predict. And while the Emmys, unlike the Oscars, have never been known to drive pundits and viewers alike to fits of nail-biting anxiety, at least a few of this year’s drama races have been turned upside down by the recent plagiarism claims that have plagued Nic Pizzolatto, possibly exposing True Detective as the emperor who’ll arrive at the Nokia Theatre on August 25 with the least amount of clothes.

Jennifer Lawrence: On Female Spontaneous Combustion

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Jennifer Lawrence: On Female Spontaneous Combustion
Jennifer Lawrence: On Female Spontaneous Combustion

The image of women spontaneously combusting while doing housework was one of the most popular tropes of filmmaking more than a century ago. In a widely viewed early film from 1903, Mary Jane’s Mishap, a British housemaid accidentally immolates herself while attempting to light a hearth fire with paraffin and subsequently explodes out of the chimney. It was, of course, not uncommon for 19th-century women to catch fire in their own homes when their bulky hoop skirts would graze against an errant spark from the fireplace. Women spontaneously combusting in their own homes was a frequent hazard of the time that journalists then tastefully referred to as “crinoline conflagrations.”

Comical media images of women exploding provided outlets for spectators to laugh off the hazardous politics of everyday domesticity. While many aspects of the relationship between gender politics and media culture have changed since the early 1900s, we still harbor an unconscious tendency to laugh at otherwise horrific images of violence inflicted on women’s bodies. Fortunately, 21st-century domesticity isn’t quite so fraught with the perils of instantaneous conflagration. Yet, the image of women catching fire—quite simply as a metaphor for women’s ambitions to be visible at all—continues to spark our cultural imagination.

And perhaps no other movie star walks this fine line between media visibility and human calamity as deftly as Jennifer Lawrence. There’s something oddly literalistic about the actress’s star appeal. From her “electricity” with Bradley Cooper, to her near-fatal calamity with a 1970s microwave in American Hustle, to her iconic portrayal of “The Girl on Fire” in The Hunger Games trilogy, Lawrence draws on a long tradition of female combustion in cinema.

American Horror Story: Coven Recap Episode 13, "The Seven Wonders"

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American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 13, “The Seven Wonders”

FX

American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 13, “The Seven Wonders”

“The Seven Wonders” finds American Horror Story: Coven largely tending, predictably for the most part, to a final bit of plot bookkeeping. Fiona (Jessica Lange) is finally dead, after one last inevitable revival or fake-out or reversal, and apparently destined to spend her eternity catfishing with the Axeman (Danny Huston) in a realm presided over by Papa Legba (Lance Reddick), a demonic entity that’s retrospectively revealed to be entirely superfluous to Coven’s grand narrative scheme. Zoe (Taissa Farmiga) and Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe) are installed as new Supreme Cordelia’s (Sarah Paulson) upper management, and it appears that their work will be cut out for all of them, as a swift PR maneuver has rejuvenated the institution with a global-wide new influx of troubled witches looking to hone their baffling new powers.

American Horror Story: Coven Recap Episode 12, "Go to Hell"

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American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 12, “Go to Hell”

FX

American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 12, “Go to Hell”

The penultimate episode of American Horror Story: Coven, “Go to Hell” finds the series still desperately scrambling to introduce busy conceits. Theoretically, we should be eagerly anticipating the revelation of Fiona’s (Jessica Lange) successor as the next Supreme, but how can we? As an audience, we never know if any event “counts,” or if it will be reversed to satisfy a new creative whimsy. The first two or three hundred character resurrections were a cheeky way of illustrating Coven’s ’s willingness to screw with viewer expectation, but that device, along with the witches’ highly varying procession of week-to-week powers, has long ago devolved into tedium. And somewhere down the line, creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk also lost a valuable sense of pace: Major events seem to rush by now in a barely coherent tizzy, while negligible vignettes eat up a significant portion of running time.

American Horror Story: Coven Recap Episode 11, "Protect the Coven"

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American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 11, “Protect the Coven”

FX

American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 11, “Protect the Coven”

With only two episodes remaining, it’s probably fair to say that American Horror Story: Coven has evolved in a fashion opposite to that of the prior American Horror Story: Asylum. Where the latter gradually discarded its various narrative convolutions to arrive at a conclusion of surprising emotional purity, the former opened with a confident sense of parody that’s been gradually cluttered up with a variety of desperately WTF tonal switcheroos. It’s difficult at this point to evade the suspicion that creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk prize the moment, the here and the now, above any particular thematic coherence—a development that won’t come as much of a surprise to those who watched Murphy’s initially addictive, eventually monotonously “outrageous” series Nip/Tuck. Which is to say that this week’s episode of Coven, “Protect the Coven,” is eventful without being especially involving, as Murphy and Falchuk’s game of “anything goes” appears to be very close to stalling out. If anything can happen, then nothing’s really at stake, as the writers have proven themselves perfectly willing to reverse or outright ignore any past development that has the potential to impede a moment of quick theoretical shock value or novelty.

American Horror Story: Coven Recap Episode 10, "The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks"

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American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 10, “The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks”

FX

American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 10, “The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks”

“The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks” opens with a prolonged instance of “last month on American Horror Story: Coven,” as it behaves as the TV equivalent of what Quentin Tarantino once deemed a “hang out movie.” Fiona (Jessica Lange) and her extended family of witches, ghosts, and disgruntled demons spend much of the first half hour lounging around the coven, trading bon mots and reminding us who’s planning to kill or revive who, with Stevie Nicks occasionally popping in as herself to sing a song and counsel the increasingly irritating Misty Day (Lily Rabe) on her possibilities of being the next Supreme.

American Horror Story: Coven Recap Episode 9, "Head"

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American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 9, “Head”

FX

American Horror Story: Coven Recap: Episode 9, “Head”

This week’s episode of American Horror Story: Coven steers the series into unexpected and retrospectively logical narrative and thematic directions. So far, creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck have been primarily concerned with offering viewers an often frank and disconcerting parody of a race war as waged in that uneasy cultural melting pot known as New Orleans. But if “Head” is a proper indication, Coven is moving toward introducing a grander villain who’s amusingly of the times as well as indicative of the sentiment that class and money cut deeper than skin color. That’s right: Turns out that witches are as vulnerable to massive corporate gentrification as the rest of us.