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Friday, October 7, 2011

The New Season

In terms of television trends, it looks like horror is the new cooking-competition show.  In the last week, two new horror shows premiered on TV (well, American TV, anyway), both of which evoke the eternal question: If a house looks as creepy as THAT, why would ANYONE choose to live there?

In "Bedlam," which BBC America will use to fill the time slot of "Doctor Who" for the next few weeks, a group of telegenic young Brits--producers probably pitched the show as "'Friends' with Poltergeists"--are the anchor tenants of the Bedlam Heights luxury apartments.  Note the subtle symbolism of the name: Bedlam Heights used to be an insane asylum where unspeakable things happened.  Quite the selling point for prospective tenants, that.

Joining the crew is Jed, the adoptive cousin of the female lead (whose not-quite-related status, I assume, makes eventual sex inevitable); Jed has spent the last few years in a mental hospital because he sees dead people.  So in case you wondered what became of little Haley Joel Osment after the end of  "The Sixth Sense," apparently he became hunky but everybody thinks he's nuts.  Still, Jed's powers come in handy in the haunted environs of Bedlam Heights.  Overall, "Bedlam" is entertaining enough, but it's clearly only the second-best ghost-story of the new season.   

The best would be "American Horror Story."

 From the producers of "Nip/Tuck," "American Horror Story" is basically a southern Gothic--well, southern California, but still.  Dylan McDermott and Connie Britton star as Ben and Vivien Harmon, a married couple trying to start a new life in a new place after one of them has had an extramarital affair and the other has had a miscarriage (I'll let you guess who's who).  The best part of the show, though, is Jessica Lange, who hams it up hypnotically as creepy next-door neighbor Constance.  A faded southern belle, Constance reminds one of a latter-day Blanche DuBois; if Stanley Kowalski's rape had resulted in a pregnancy, one could imagine the result being Constance's spectre-sensitive, Down-syndrome suffering daughter, Adelaide.

I don't know if the show is meant to be a mini-series or an ongoing drama.  If the former, then great, but I suspect it's the latter, in which case, no matter how entertaining the show is, the real test will come at the moment when the Harmon clan inevitably realizes that their dream house is, in fact, a haunted nightmare palace. As well-educated, financially secure professionals, they will have no reasonable excuse to stay.  Why would they choose to live there?  How well "American Horror Story" deals with that question will determine the show's ultimate fate.

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