Friday, October 11, 2013

Fall TV Scorecard: Week 4

American Horror Story: Coven (FX)

Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk took a little flak for the second season of their anthology series American Horror Story. Not because the season was bad – quite the opposite, the season was fantastic and was the single most nominated series at this year’s Emmy awards. But Murphey and Falchuk had so successfully fashioned a living nightmare that the result was a little hard to watch.

But this year’s American Horror Story: Coven is a noticeably lighter, funner and more playful affair, albeit one whose first hour includes depictions of torture, rape, murder and a woman whose beauty ritual involves spreading human blood on her face with a shaving brush.

As always, a largely familiar cast with a few newcomers have inhabited a new world and new characters, in this case revolving around a Hogwarts-style school for witches in New Orleans. We’re introduced to the world through the eyes of Zoe (played by returning Taissa Farmiga after a season-2 absence) who learns that she descends from a line of magical women after accidently killing her boyfriend. In the world of AHS:Coven, most witches have a single distinguishing gift, a la the X-Men, and Zoe is essentially the R-rated version of Rogue (in a nutshell: she has deadly lady-bits).

The pilot mostly sets the scene, introducing us to a slew of characters while only hinting at the future stakes. There’s Jessica Lange as the reigning Supreme, Sarah Paulson as her daughter and school headmistress, Kathy Bates as real-world sadistic slave owner Delphine LaLaurie and Angela Bassett as a mysterious person we know little about at this point. It’s a juicy tease of the thrills to come and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Grade: A
Class: Subscribe (but as always, not for the faint of heart)  

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland (ABC)

In this largely self-contained spin off, Alice is a patient in a mental ward about to undergo a lobotomy due to her failing grasp on reality – namely a manufactured fantasy where she fell down a rabbit hole into a magical world and fell in love with a genie named Cyrus, who was subsequently killed by an evil queen.

Of course it was all real, so on the eve of her procedure she is rescued by the Knave of Hearts and transported back to Wonderland by the white Rabbit, who claims that Cyrus is alive. So off they go on an adventure to find/save her true love, who we learn is imprisoned by Jafar (Lost’s Naveen Andrews, who frankly deserves better), and running into familiar characters along the way like the Cheshire Cat and that hooka-smoking caterpillar.

The fairytale land portions are always the weakest of Once Upon a Time due to the ubiquitous use of computer generated environments that a TV show simply doesn’t have the budget to pull off. It’s no different in Wonderland, with the actors scrambling to interact with a world that exists entirely in green screen. It’s awkward and visually unpleasant, but hopefully future episodes will find the right balance between corporeal and Star Wars prequel trilogy.

Grade: B-
Class: Keep an Eye On

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