Review: Grimm and American Horror Story

Today I’ve decided to blog about two new shows in the Fall lineup because I like to watch TV… a lot. Frankly It’s tough for the average person to find time to watch every new show and continue with the regulars unless you’re retired, morbidly obese, incredibly lazy or simply unemployed.

Or those whose souls have been stolen by World of Warcraft...

Personally I tend to be fairly selective about which shows I give time to and which ones I don’t. There are some series that start out great but simply peter out after half a season or so (see: Prison Break).  So today I’m going to briefly discuss a couple of new shows I started watching to give you my general opinion. One of the reasons I’m doing this is because I’ve found it hard to find general reviews or previews of new shows that don’t contain spoilers or don’t seem written by the people plugging the show. Most of what I find online are episode synopses and forum discussions -which can be good, but can also contain tons of spoilers so I tend to avoid them. So what I’m going to try to do is offer you as much information as I can without spoiling anything for you. So without further ado, here we go:

GRIMM – NBC – Fridays at 9 pm ET

Synopsis: A homicide detective discovers that he is part of a group of hunters known as “Grimms”, whose task is to protect humanity from supernatural creatures posing as normal people. Grimms have the hereditary power to see the monsters as they truly are and thus hunt them down whenever and wherever they may be.

"Call me crazy, but I think this has something to do with that clawed-fellow standing in the foreground..."

After airing only a few episodes, the show was picked up for a full season after the cancelation of The Playboy Club. So far it has averaged 6.9 million viewers and frankly I’m not sure why. I’ve only watched the first two episodes but so far I’m not convinced. Overall the show has the feeling of a freak-of-the-week crime/action/fantasy show with a  loose season arc looming after the first two episodes. I’m planning on giving it a few more episodes to convince me, but the pilot did quite a lot of damage to my ability to maintain interest in this sort of thing. It felt rushed and jam-packed with information and exposition and didn’t leave much room for actual crime-solving. The show seemed more interested in explaining itself than explaining how easy it was for the main character to solve a case involving a dangerous, meticulous and clever serial killer.

I think Grimm would have been better served to avoid the freak-of-the-week trope for the first episode and instead focus on setting up the rest of the season with more detailed introductions of the characters, setting and history that the show simply tacked on to an otherwise full-to-the-brim 40 minutes. The events were fairly predictable and seemed to rely on the same cliches and tricks of past shows. I got the feeling that the creators simply used a simple TV formula and re-dressed it with a new fantasy-based storyline. In fact, it felt very reminiscent of Buffy The Vampire Slayer which was no surprise after I learned that show co-creator David Greenwalt was in fact an executive producer of both Buffy and Angel.

Back when these shows were both on the air, I actually couldn't tell them apart. Bah! That's a lie! I have every season of Buffy on DVD! Ahhh.... Joss help me!

Ultimately, I was unenthused by the first two episodes which may or may not be unfair of me. But at the same time, there have been enough shows using the same formula as Grimm that the creators should have been able to improve upon the method instead of regurgitating the same concepts we’ve seen a dozen times before. If you aren’t too picky and like formulaic freak-of-the-week detective-style shows, you might like it simply because the background story is ‘new’, but if you’re a bit more discriminating I’d say pass on Grimm. But as I said, I’ll still watch a few more episodes to see if it gets better and report back at a later date. My current opinion though, is that you should probably pass on this one.

AMERICAN HORROR STORY – FX – Wednesdays at 10 pm ET

Synopsis: A family of three uproot their lives in Boston to settle in a restored mansion in Los Angeles which is actually haunted by the spirits of those who died in it. The house itself seems to be possessed by a strange malevolence that seems to drive its inhabitants mad.

"Ow! Come on you guys, quit sitting me! Those chair legs really pinch!"

Like Grimm, American Horror Story was picked up for a second season less than a month after its premiere. Think of it as a serialized version of film version of The Shining. In many ways the plots are similar: a family of three makes its way to a haunted mansion and begins seeing things and having horrifying encounters with spirits while slowly learning about the house’s violent past. The house (nicknamed ‘Murder House’ by some of the locals) also seems to encourage rash and uncharacteristic behavior in its inhabitants, driving them to anger and violence. Dylan McDermott and Connie Britton star as Ben and Vivien Harmon, a couple with marital issues who move from one side of the country to the other, taking with them their teenage daughter, Violet (played by newcomer Taissa Farmiga). Jessica Lange supports as their intrusive and conniving neighbor, Constance Langdon while True Blood’s Denis O’Hare plays possibly-deranged former ‘murder house’ owner Larry Harvey who returns to antagonize Ben for unknown reasons.

But with a face like that, can you really blame him for being a bit unhinged?

The show was created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk (the minds behind Glee and Nip/Tuck) and it’s certainly a 180 from their work on the hit Fox series. American Horror Story attempts to do what few have successfully been able to achieve in the past: a serialized horror drama. There are moments of camp and cheese to be found, but never excessively and there are certainly enough scares to keep you on the edge of your seat without being overly terrifying. Overall the show does a good job of maintaining tension and a thorough sense of creepiness.

Certain elements of 'Glee' also seem to drive people mad but for completely different reasons. Honestly I just don't get it. The show is simply a sounding board for recording artists to showcase their music...But I just love their cover of Don't Stop Believin'! ... Dammit! They got me again!

The opening sequence itself is to date the most unnerving one I’ve ever seen (surpassing the intros for Dexter and True Blood, making both look extremely tame). The mere music and sound effects in the intro make me shudder and quickly press mute or fast forward and I haven’t watched it in its entirety beyond viewing the pilot.

The show does a good job of setting up the mystery surrounding the house and leaving the viewer with many questions following the first few episodes without being overly confusing or too ‘Lost-like’ in its attempt to create said mystery. It is not without its flaws however. I definitely applaud the writers for avoiding the recent trend of compounding mysteries on top of mysteries by offering valuable tidbits of information and explanation later on in season one, but some of the answers reveal themselves to the detriment of the story. Once X has been revealed, it takes away the mystery and confusion surrounding it. You have to give them credit for trying to give fans answers when so many shows don’t, but after watching the first 8 episodes, you start to see why some shows like Lost tried not to answer too many questions: as soon as you know how the trick is performed, it loses that magical wonder and one tends to simply move on to something else.

Don’t get me wrong though, not all mysteries are solved thus-far in the season and American Horror Story is still gripping and intriguing in its own right, but it’s not perfect and TV nerds like myself will have bones to pick. That said, I watched 4 episodes back to back the other night because I simply couldn’t summon the willpower to stop and go to bed. So now you have my general review on the latest foray into televised horror and I hope it helps you make up your mind about whether or not you want to look into American Horror Story. Ultimately I like it, but you have to be into the whole creep-factor, horror in general and accepting the shlock along with the shocks.

American Horror Story Trailer

Grimm Trailer (FYI: the 4-minute trailer is basically just a summary of the 40-minute pilot]

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Filed under From The Mind of Josh, Television

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