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'American Horror Story: Asylum' is No More Than Scary Bad
October 17, 2012  | By Ed Bark  | 4 comments

Depravity, thy newest name is American Horror Story: Asylum.

And this time there are no saving graces.

Season 1 of AHS at least had a thin veneer of reality and one or two moral compasses at work amid its excesses and brutality. It also had the steadying hand of Connie Britton.

Judging from the first two very off-putting episodes available for review, Asylum looks like all excess all the time. As they did with the once borderline great series Nip/Tuck, co-creators/executive producers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have proved incapable of resisting their worst impulses. Nip/Tuck deteriorated into a gratuitous, absurd mess. Asylum goes several steps beyond in its seeming determination to be nothing more than a very sick and twisted gore-fest laying waste to one of the easier punching bags on earth — the Catholic Church.

FX, home network to deservedly praised series ranging from Justified to Louie, continues to pride itself on taking risks and kicking ass. Asylum looks to be a very bad misstep into little more than sticky, smelly dung. The best thing about it, as with the first AHS, is the decidedly unique opening credits sequence, a collection of disturbing images and Radiohead-esque sound spurts. After that — ugh.

Jessica Lange, who won an Emmy as warped Constance in the first AHS, returns as the new character Sister Jude, a Satanic nun running a home for the insane called Briarcliff Manor. Asylum is mostly set in 1964, which might as well be the Dark Ages in terms of the brutalization endorsed within these walls.

Inmates include a (wrongly?) accused serial killer known as "Bloody Face" (returnee Evan Peters in a different role) and murderous sex addict Shelley (Chloe Sevigny from Big Love). In next week's Episode 2, Shelley gets to say, "Hey, Sister, I have a cucumber in my room. Not because I was hungry." Hey, kids, never mind her. Keep eating your vegetables.

Shelley doesn't get her mouth washed out with lye, probably only because Sister Jude herself fantasizes stripping down to a slinky red nightie for the pleasure of a seemingly hands-on monsignor played by Joseph Fiennes. He hired her to run this place, and hopes to someday go all the way with her (to Rome, etc).

Asylum's first two hours also provide a sequence in which the thoroughly sadistic Briarcliff doctor, Arthur Arden (James Cromwell), has a paid escort over to his house for dinner and other pleasures. She won't drink his top shelf cabernet but will get into a nun's outfit for him. Then comes a line that may well live in screenplay infamy but also belongs in a parody: "Now. Slowly." says Dr. Arden. "Show me your mossy bank."

Wednesday's premiere hour also begins with a sex-capade, but set in the present day. Leo (Adam Levine) and his new bride are determined to give their mossy banks a workout in America's 12 most haunted houses. Unfortunately they've chosen Briarcliff as one of them, meaning that Levine (the Maroon 5 frontman and judge on NBC's The Voice) seemingly will spend most of Asylum in a bad state of disrepair during recurring flash forwards.

Producers Murphy and Falchuk also have included lesbian reporter Lana "Banana" Winters (Sarah Paulson), who preposterously finds a way to sneak into Briarcliff in search of an expose. Let's just say this doesn't quite work as planned.

Through it all, Lange's Sister Jude sneers and hisses at a variety of patients and co-workers. Once upon a time she was the young actress who fetchingly screamed from King Kong's palm. Now Lange is all Sturm und Drang — and happy witness to electro-shock therapy treatments and exorcisms among other horror shows.

"Mental illness is the fashionable explanation for sin," she declares.

Asylum, which throws in a few bare bottoms and "a dirty little slut with a poisonous tongue" exchange for good measure, is neither for the faint of heart nor the stout of mind. Some of its imagery is arresting. But this is mostly a sorry, unfortunate and even contemptuous enterprise.

The first AHS rose above some of its twisted storytelling. Asylum simply keeps sinking — from one depth to another.


Read more by Ed Bark at unclebarky.com

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I would have preferred it as a movie which usually concludes in 120 minutes, for better or for worse. There is something particularly unseemly about this show that concludes each week with a nasty cliffhanger. You want to see some immediate justice to the violence. I'm a happier person when I forget to record it! This show really crosses the line.
Jan 11, 2013   |  Reply
I'm so glad somebody else realized what a pointless exercise in gratuitous torture-porn, misogyny, and lack of characterization this show is. I am very disappointed, as I enjoyed the first season.
I don't understand the people who think that this show's high production values and good photography somehow make up for it's lack of everything else.
Oct 29, 2012   |  Reply
Janvier Li
I couldn't agree more. Out of sheer boredom and nostalgia for the first season of AHS, I decided to give Asylum a shot. I confess that one of the main things that disappointed me and put me off from season 2 was the complete morphing of characters from the first season. I grew to know Evan Peters as a high school psychopath and he performed well in that role. To have to now see him as an open-minded, almost revolutionary individual for his time-period who is accepting of things that his former character Tate, would abhor (such as polygamy) is so tedious, it's almost painful. I grew to despise his new personage namely because his true talent as an actor shines through roles in which he plays a psychopath, not in those where he plays a polygamist hippie! Even in his saddest moments I found myself laughing at him, rather than sympathizing. Strangely, I also had more sympathy for Dr. Thresdon than I did for Lana Winters. Perhaps because Quinto is a better actor?
Nov 24, 2014
You couldn't have said a more accurate statement. This show is getting the same horrible treatment as nip/tuck. This show has gone from amazing to painful to watch.
Oct 26, 2012   |  Reply
I finally caught up to AHS on the DVR, and really don't see what you're on about. It's certainly no breakthrough in any way, no Walking Dead or Supernatural for example, but is slickly produced and competently done and sometimes amusing and even thoughtful -- I seem to catch a faint whiff of parody in there somewhere. The gore is pretty standard level -- nowhere near the intensity of the aforementioned shows or (the apparently deceased) Being Human, Revolution, or, lately, Haven, or even Breaking Bad. The sex is pretty standard too. The entertainment value, for me at least, exceeds that of about 90 percent of the total TV menu. Your review seems to come more out of some kind of moralistic/religious offendedness than critical thinking

Oct 18, 2012   |  Reply
First, we don't even know if you're talking about the same season. Everyone here saying they hate S2 loved S1. Assuming we are talking about S2, all I can say is that if you liked it you have no taste or standards. The fact that you think saying someone's opinion comes from 'having morals' is somehow an insult just indicates how adrift you are. S2 is the pointless, hedonistic screaming of the modern age personified.
Dec 11, 2015
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