The Cutprice Guignol

The Sixth Year: American Sigh Story

Tag: ryan murphy

Ryan Murphy’s Netflix Shows: A Prediction

As you may have heard, Ryan Murphy, my love rival and general television will-they-won’t-they nemesis, has just taken a deal to head over to Netflix to create a bunch of new shows over there. Now, as a die-hard fan of literally everything Ryan Murphy has ever done (and yes, those are links to reviews on every single one of his shows), I feel like I’m probably a decent authority on what to expect from Ryan Murphy’s new Netflix deal. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at what I think his tenure with the streaming site will look like.

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Ryan Murphy: Defended

Ryan Murphy, eh? What’s the deal with the evil genius behind Nip/Tuck, American Horror Story, and (of all things) Glee? I’ve recently been re-watching Nip/tuck, the soap opera on acid that takes places in a plastic surgery clinic to better follow the lives of it’s two surgeon protagonists, Christian Troy and Sean McNamara. Now, this all sounds pretty par for the course so far, but this is a Ryan Murphy show, so I can guarantee that it’s probably going to smack you round the face with a big block of unlikely stories before running away and singing some show tunes on his other show.

One of the hallmarks of Murphy show (and, I suppose, a Murphy/Falchuck creation, because dear old Brad has had so much to do with the conception of both American Horror Story and Glee) is the completely hectic pace at which they rattle through plotlines; a kind of ADHD storytelling that works pretty convincingly if, like me, you tend to get bored with shows that linger over one plot strand too long. There’s also the sheer outrageousness of the plots to contend with, too; American Horror Story pretty much excepted, because, c’mon, it’s a horror show. But looking at Glee or Nip/Tuck or even Popular, shows which are allegedly set in the real world (even a violently technicolour version of it) are filled with stonkingly unbelievable plots.
For example, one character in one particular show (which I won’t name for spoiler’s sake) dates a closeted lesbian, tries to cut his own foreskin off, gets involved in a three-way relationship with her and her new girlfriend, dates a transsexual, dates a bigoted racist chick, beats the crap out of an unrelated transsexual, marries his father’s ex (who’s also a porn star), has a baby, gets into gay porn, becomes a meth addict, gets caught in a meth explosion, falls in love with his burns counsellor, decides to go to college to become a doctor, becomes a mime instead, goes on a robbery spree dressed as a mime, ends up somebody’s bitch in prison, strangles him with some lingerie before getting released early and running off with aforementioned baby and aforementioned transsexual to start a new life. After that, you’d want one. It’s mental. It’s ridiculous. And the worst part is I’ve barely scratched the surface of everything that happens to this character.

And that’s the hallmark of Murphy (and, later, Murphchuck shows): they are unbelievably silly. Yeah, occasionally Glee glanced over some after-school-special territory with bullying and homophobia and teenage pregnancy and what have you, but for the most part they revel in hysterical histrionics. Nonsense is what they do best, and I don’t think there’s anything outrightly wrong with that- in fact, I think it’s what makes them some of my favourite TV-brainboxes working right now. Never ones to rely on what they already know to sell a programme, they’ve constantly bounced between genres because, presumably, they get bored dealing with just one-and, surprisingly enough, they often create shows that are actually kind of excellent.

I will hold up my right to watch, read, and listen to trash as long as I enjoy it on some level, and Murphchuck have consistently created just the right balance of trash and moderate innovation for me to continue watching. Gourmet crap, if you will.

American Horror Story: Bitchcraft

Hoo-fucking-rah! American Horror Story has returned, and not a damn minute too soon. This genius series from the makers of Glee has smashed it’s way back onto my TV screen with the third series, Coven, following the jolly larks of a group of young witches.

The Worst Witch it ain’t; the opening scene (featuring an electric Kathy Bates playing her best psycho since Misery) jumps straight into the dark side of the show, with viscous torture and a rather clumsy handling of the RACE ISSUE in 1870s New Orleans. After that, the episode starts smacking us around the face introducing it’s familiar actors playing new roles; Taissa Farmiga as a young witch whose power causes her unfortunate lovers to die while bleeding profusely from every facial orifice, Sarah Paulson as the head of the secretive academy that protects the dwindling number of the supernatrually blessed, Lily Rabe as a fresh-faced witch from the Deep South whose burned alive for her powers, and Frances Conroy as an eccentric grandmother (“I’m simply mad for tartan!”).

Bitchcraft really acts as a world-building episode; we meet the other students at Paulson’s Magic nursery (Emma Roberts, Gabourey Sibide, etc), and learn the place these people hold in society. While most are forced into hiding their powers (“I’M A HUMAN VOODOO DOLL!”), there are some who embrace them, exploit them and live through them.

One of this number is Jessica Lange. It’s difficult to explain how I feel about Lange without being reduced to guttural howls of delight, but suffice to say she once again dominates every second of her screentime. The first shot of her character-a heeled foot stepping out of a car, followed by a crane shot where we can only see her umbrella and her arching shadow-defines it perfectly. She’s sexy, self-assured, darkly hilarious and oozes the sort of charisma Clooney can only dream of. How this show has hung onto her I’ll never know; but I am so glad they did.

Back the episode. Once again, AHS seems to be setting itself for another series full of utterly spectacular female characters. One of the running themes of Coven’s predecessors was the complete lack of women as victims-almost every single wronged woman has taken her fate into her own hands and come out on top. Bitchcraft has a few instances of this; for example, Roberts’ pouty movie star is gang raped at a party (in a scene which could have been horrendously crass and upsetting, but was handled subtley and allowed Emma her dignity). Afterwards, the perpetrators flee onto a bus to make there escape and, as a distraught Farmiga looks on, Roberts’ simply steps into frame and waves her hand at the bus, causing it to flip over and kill almost everyone on board. Later, Farmiga’s Zoe uses her special Jedi skills to rape one of the surviving boys to death in hospital. When Lange is refused a substance meant to restore her youth, she simply sucks the life out of the offending scientist. Whatever you think of what they’re doing-and it’s often violent, frightening, or downright horrific-these are a bunch of women you do not fuck with. And I can get behind that for this series.

Jessica Lange Line Reading of the Week: During an argument with Sarah Paulson (also her daughter, by the way), she delivers a shudderingly caustic “Don’t make me drop a house on you”.

The Glee Project: Nope.

So, as some of you know, I’m in an abusive relationship with Glee. I want to leave- dear God, after the school shooting episode followed shortly by the molestation special I want to leave more than I want to have already finished flat-hunting. And since last season, we’ve had regular croppings-up of the wheat harvested from the hours of chaff that make up The Glee Project.

The premise is piss-simple- twelve talented youngsters compete for a guest-star role on Glee, taking part in singing, dancing and music video challenges, whearapon a group of judges, including series co-creator Ryan Murphy, eliminate one human. Thing is, that there are only about two or three actual personalities for each series- and they are, without exception, bastards. Of course, we had the “personalities”-the sort of people who could be summed up by a single, medium-volume klaxon noise.”EEEEEEEEEEEHHHHH”.  Often, this translates into “OMG I’M SO QUIRKY/FLIRTY/CRAY-CRAY” (delete as appropriate) but is no less irritating, generic or shite.

But the only people who stand out in my mind are the people who were genuinely awful. I understand that editing makes villains of us all, but some are truly indefensible. Take Lindsay Pierce-unbelievably beautiful, voice like a filthy angel, the sheer charisma and draw that consistently drags my eye back to her- who certainly did herself no favours, ever, at any point. Yet what pisses me off about the whole affair is that the winners have consistently been the least offensive participant-yeah, Damian Mcthingy, Samuel Boredom and Blake Jenner-ally-nobody-cares are all supremely talented and I don’t begrudge them winning at all, but they were also the contestants who made nil impression apart from both seeming like really sound blokes. Glee is about huge personalities and dramatic personae, but this isn’t reflected in The Glee Projected Growth of Income. Personally, I felt the really fantastic performers were made out to be dicks and chucked out come round six or so. Grumble, grumble.

Can I interrupt myself to point out the only person from The Glee Project who didn’t feel like an unsubtle bolstering of the show was Ali Stroker, who had a single cameo in one episode? All the other characters have been ruined. RUINED. Dragged back and forth through the shit-heap of romantic couplings, unlikely backstories and scattergun sexuality, it’s no wonder I came to the show with a big thumbs-down over the actors that they were helpless to prevent.

You see Ryan Murphy? Don’t like him. I mean, let’s not get me wrong here- I LOVE his television. American Horror Story, Nip/Tuck, a lot of Glee-it works for me. But as a human being, he really pisses me off, and I don’t know why. I want to like him, want him to be a reflection of his brilliant, wry television, but he comes across as a humourless, actively dislikeable borderline-bastard. Nul Points. I like to think that when the show began he was a charming casanova, but Glee has driven him to this hypercritical, beaten-down souleater that we see before us. I know that’s what it’s done to me.

Murphchuck and Horror Stories

I’ve just finished watching the entire series of American Horror Story. I’m deeply skeptical about horror TV shows, usually, because tension is difficult enough to maintain over an hour and a half movie, let alone a ten-part serial. And I was even more deeply skeptical when I discovered that the makers of Glee, Ryan Murphy and Brad Flachuck, (Murphchuck?) were the brains behind the piece. Apropos to nothing, the title also looks like a placeholder name the schedulers forgot to change before release. And this didn’t fill me with faith either.

The first series is set in the “Murder House”- a house with a horrific history that is revealed bit by gruesome bit- the story focusing on the Harmons, the new owners, and their relationship with the houses questionable past occupants and their new neighbors, the Langdons. The cast wavers between decent and utterly superb- a particular nod to Jessica Lange as the Southern-Belle-from-Hell Constance Langdon, a soaring psycho bitch with just the right balance of sugared sarcasm and genuine threat. Zachary Quinto and Teddy Sears remain my favourite duo, the fabulously catty Quinto and alpha-gay Sears playing a heart-wrenching couple coming apart at the seams but trapped in a dysfunctional relationship when the horror of the house takes hold. Most of the main parts are thankless but solid- that said, I love Evan Peters as Tate Langdon, the last word in gorgeous teen hearthrob madmen. Though every time I look directly at him, my eyes ache a little with his beauty, making it difficult to properly judge his performance.

What really sold me on the first series was the gleeful way it ascribed to all the old horror archetypes-the haunted house, scores of creepy children, the mysterious backstories and Something in the Basement. But the writing is solid and throws in handfuls of black humour to keep the show properly entertaning, and the Charlie Clouster (SAW YEAH SAW!) theme is simply superb. All in all, it’s an outstanding season with a satisfyingly chilling payoff.

The second season is, bravely, completely unrelated to the first, set in an asylum in the 1960s. It’s literally impossible to even give a comprehensive outline of the plot without peppering it with spoilers, but suffice to say someone ends up wrongly imprisoned in the deeply questionable Briarcliff Mental Institute. Much of the cast returned for this series, with Jessica Lange and Zachary Quinto being the stand-outs once again, with Quinto getting a much meatier, much darker, much more understated role that he absolutely nails (perhaps an unfortunate choice of words). Bizarelly, Chloe Sevigny pops up playing a irresistible nymphomaniac who suffers a terrible fate at the hands of the deranged Doctor Arden (a patchy but screen-dominating James Cromwell). I can’t honestly say I enjoyed the second second series as much as the first, as I was far more interested in Quinto’s Oliver Thresdon than the writers seemed to be. But I’m hopeful for the third, especially after the Mother Superior of the series Jessica Lange has been confirmed tor return, and Kathy Bates (yes, THAT Kathy Bates) will be joining the cast too. Glee is Dead; Long Live Horror Story.

Glee. GLEE.

I’m going to get this right out there right now, in the first sentence, so there is no equivocation about my feelings later on- I really liked Glee for a while. Though it is slightly more socially acceptable to wear a Klan hood to a dinner party than admit to being a Gleek (a term which, to this day, makes the bile rise in my throat), it was quite good fun for a few seasons and even produced some more than serviceable covers once in a while.

It’s a fair way into the fourth series now. This is notable (if you like noting this kind of thing) because it was the first series to focus on characters who weren’t in the original series; the old bunch of students graduated and moved on to college, stage school or…oh, wait, the writers don’t even make the pretence of caring about any of the other characters. This left a hole back at William McKinley High School, a hole that surely had to be filled with another ragtag bunch of hopefuls with a dream and the ability to make a Ke$ha song worse than it already was.

Instead, the writers crammed this void with characters of almost every race, gender, sexuality and tenuous connection to characters that were actually popular as a desperate grab at their old audience. “Stereotype” isn’t a strong enough word for what Glee does to characters; they joyously took every single archetype known to mankind and amped them up by a factor of Showgirls. And it worked. It was so shamelessly fun and silly that the occasional slightly batty powerhouse ballad or unlikely mashup slid under the radar most of the time, even seemed quite novel by comparison. But the new series- with it’s bizarre collection of old supporting characters and brand-new knockoffs- has the endearing underdogs become the sort of people I wouldn’t tire of hitting with a spade if I wasn’t certain it would go straight through their complete lack of characterization. Even the spectacular Jane Lynch has been shoved aside to make way for yet another smaller-than-life caricature bleating along to a torturously asinine cover of Call Me Maybe. Even the stories following the original characters have been filtered of almost all their wit and charm, but thankfully this is made up for by a wonderful performance by Sarah Jessica-Parker as a benevolent fashion maven. Oh, hang on, she’s rubbish. Although the adult cast were never the best part of Glee, they were at least solid in earlier seasons, but here they are either ineffectual or grating. Kate Hudson has a reasonable turn as the dance teacher from hell. My opinion here might be informed by her first dance number which featured much writhing around and gyrating; I’m not sure, busy as I am retrieving my jaw from the centre of the earth.

It’s always disappointing to watch a once-enjoyable show plunging so dramatically from grace, but it also only feels right: Glee never did anything by halves, whether it be covering Jim Steinman or throwing in a life-changing proposal as an afterthought. Like an embittered child starlet throwing up in the gutter , Glee will not drop out of notoriety without a fight, though it will manage to do it without a shred of dignity.