Occasionally—not very often, mind you, but once in a long while—you can find yourself sitting in front of the television set with your mouth hanging open in amazement. Some viewers might even call it shock. Or horror. As in what we were treated to in FX Network’s “American Horror Story” debut this week.
This series, starring Dylan McDermott (“The Practice”, “Dark Blue”) and Connie Britton (“Friday Night Lights”) as a psychiatrist and his wife trying to overcome a tragedy in their lives by moving from Boston to a creepy mansion in L.A., is not for everyone. It earns its TV-MA rating with plenty of sex, nudity and bloody violence. The shudder factor is sky-high: baby body parts in jars in a moldering basement; a developmentally-challenged girl who seems to have a connection to the house, who keeps predicting that everyone in it will die horribly; a well-past-her-prime housekeeper that only the psychiatrist sees as a voluptuous seductress; a teenage psych patient who spouts venom in his sessions with the doctor one minute and finds his way to the doctor’s daughter’s room the next.
Of course, the haunted mansion/family with issues schtick is nothing new, and the producers in some way recognize this with the title of their series. Still their willingness to delve into the emotional heart of the characters—which may be where the true horror lies—is what makes this story different.
Fortunately for all of us, the show rests on the shoulders of some spectacular acting talent—not only Emmy winners McDermott and Britton, but also, in her first television role, Jessica Lange. Lange, who we are used to seeing as the heroine, is a decidedly icky next-door neighbor, a transformation she accomplishes not by makeup (she looks every inch the slightly faded Southern belle the woman professes to be), but by nuances of expression and behavior. (Britton’s character, a tough Easterner, hates her on sight.)
The scenes between Britton and Lange are topped only by the ones between Britton and McDermott, as the couple driven apart by a miscarriage and his infidelity over a year ago struggle to find a way back to each other. Predictably, the house isn’t helping. He’s suddenly sleep-walking. She’s having, ahem, hallucinations that may or may not involve him. Then there’s the housekeeper that keeps trying to seduce him. Ewww. Oh, and the teenage daughter who’s involved with the psycho is getting in trouble in school. And did I mention this is just the first episode?
For those who take their paranormal mixed more with action than with psychology, the WB’s “Supernatural” premiered last week. When last we left our heroes, demon-fighting brothers Sam and Dean Winchester and their mentor Bobby were facing off against angel Castiel, who had just promoted himself to, um, God. One can forgive Cas for this flawed thinking, since in all the seasons of this show, we’ve seen Lucifer, Death, all manner of demons, angels and archangels, but we’ve never seen the Big Guy. Even the denizens of Heaven believe He’s taken a powder, leaving them to their own devices. The result was a civil war Above and near-Apocalypse Below, which Cas ended by absorbing souls from Hell and kicking bad angel ass.
Problem is, of course, Cas absorbed some Really Bad Things along with all those souls. End result? He explodes and releases those Really Bad Things into the world. Giving our boys something to do again.
Yeah, I know. This show requires a MAJOR suspension of belief. But the dialogue is snappy and the boys are cute. The angst thing is wearing thin, both for Sam and for Dean, if you ask me, but I’m not 16.
Finally, if you’re looking for “mundane” science fiction as only J.J. Abrams can do it, you’ll be checking out the new season of “Fringe” on Fox. The only problem is you won’t be seeing much of Joshua Jackson, the actor who plays Peter Bishop, as Peter’s character sacrificed himself to build the “bridge” between alternate universes that allowed both to survive at the end of last season. Now it is as if Peter never existed, and no one remembers him. Characters on both sides of the bridge are forced to cooperate with each other on cases, including both Olivia and “Fauxlivia”, who hate each other’s guts. And “our” universe’s version of Lincoln Lee has come to work for the Fringe unit with Olivia and Walter.
The show’s producers aren’t saying when or how Peter will make a reappearance beyond the spooky flashes in reflections and TV’s that have been driving Walter crazy. They do say they are paying Joshua Jackson too much to sit at home on the couch. One would think, too, they wouldn’t want to mess with a formula that has made the show successful—that romantic chemistry between Olivia and Peter and the prickly but loving relationship between Peter and his wildly eccentric father, Walter.
Action! Actions we've taken as writers. Where are we? What are we doing?
I’ve been enjoying an RWA online class called Weapons for Writers organized by Wendy “Piper” Rome and Mark Pfeiffer, designed to give those of us who must put weapons in the hands of our characters some idea of what we might be talking about. Piper is a former attorney and an expert in weapons and self-defense who writes romantic suspense. Mark is a former Navy Chief Petty Officer responsible for shipboard counter-terrorism and was also a high-level competitive rifle shooter.
Believe me I really needed this class. Since I write science fiction suspense romance, much of which takes place on Earth, my characters often have to pick up a gun and use it. But the sum total of my experience with guns was the summer I shot my grandfather’s .22 rifle as a kid. In my house anything with a muzzle also has fur.
Fortunately Piper and Mark have so far been very patient with my questions (“what does 9 mm mean anyway”?) And they have been very welcoming to someone from “outside” strictly defined RS parameters.
When they’re not teaching classes, Piper and Mark hang out at two writers’ forums that may be of interest to anyone doing research on weapons or crime related issues: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com .