American Horror Story: Roanoke Chapter One

5.8 Overall Score
Acting: 7/10
Directing : 8/10
Writing: 4/10

Structure | Great Cast | Solid directing

Cliched storytelling | Slow moving plot | Blair Witch similarities

 

American Horror Story: “Roanoke” –Chapter One

Starring:
Cuba Gooding Jr and Andre Holland as Matt
Sarah Paulson and Lilly Rabe as Shelly
Angela Bassett and Adina Porter as Lee
Kathy Bates as The Woman in The Road
Written by: Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk
Directed by: Bradley Buecher

American Horror Story created by Ryan Murphy
2016

 

Shelly and Matt are a nice, middle-upper class interracial couple. He sells pharmaceuticals. She teaches yoga. They even avoid gluten. In the aftermath of a random violent crime that puts Matt in a coma and causes Shelly to lose their unborn child, they move to the Northern Carolinian countryside. There, the couple buys a centuries old farm house (by outbidding some odd locals)  surrounded by dozens of acres of dense forest. But what initially seems peaceful to Matt, is foreboding, threatening and ominous to Shelly. Soon, as this is, an American “horror” story , the weirdness starts, and terror once again enters their lives.

 The sixth season of American Horror Story arrives after months of misdirection, digital viral hype, and 26 teasers that had fans speculating in all the mystery. Hell, even my digital channel guide only listed this first episode as “Chapter One”. I have to admit that although I wasn’t rabid about it during all the hoopla, I did find myself excited and thinking about it all day Wednesday. It was finally beginning  to feel like the TV season was starting. So what did I think?

     “I was lost.”

Those are the last words said by protagonist Shelly Miller in episode one.  The line is spoken by AHS alumni Lilly Rabe, who plays Shelly in the “talking heads” segments. Sarah Paulson has the “reenactment” job.  It seems that in an effort to further embrace and expand on the literal interpretation of the term “American Horror”, the show has assimilated one of THE most American of staples, the true crime show. Think Unsolved Mysteries, America’s Most Wanted, and old Bill Shatner in Rescue 911! The show opens with the now familiar “talking head” and quickly jumps between that and the reenactments. This was the strongest aspect for me of the show, as I have always had the theory that the overall arch of the show is more thematic than narrative.  And that the show was eventually really going to be a study of a specific genre, that of the American horror.

As said before Shelly is dually played by Lilly Rabe and Sarah Paulson. Matt is brought to life by Andre Holland in “real” scenes and recent Emmy nominee Cuba Gooding Jr. in the reenactments. Matt’s sister Lee, an ex-cop who also has a violent past and is obviously suffering from PTSD,  appears mid-story, played by Adina Porter and Angela Bassett, respectively. Although both the interview segments and the dramatic segments are well acted and directed, this first episode depended too much on jump scares and overdone horror movie misdirection in the story. I’ve come to expect more from this show than shit jumping out at me.

Like all seasons, Ryan Murphy has taken a bit of history and mixed it into his tale. The title finally reveals what this season’s historical footnote is. It’s The Roanoke, VA colony. Roanoke, also known as “The Lost Colony”, was an expedition of 115 settlers that disappeared in 1587. Only one solitary skeleton was left behind to be found. You can read all about it here and get lost in a rabbit hole. The problem is, that other than the title, there is nothing that connects this story to that moment yet. But it is in the title, so it has to work its way in. I guess we have to be patient, but it still would have been a good bit of mythology building if we had at least a mention of it.

My other gripe with the show is its abundance and unfortunate borrowing of images from The Blair Witch Project. Bundled sticks and twig figures hang everywhere. And look there’s even a creepy found footage video! (Even more unfortunate was the commercial for the upcoming Blair Witch sequel/reboot during the broadcast. Didn’t help guys.) But not all was terrible, as I did spy some quick, more subtle nods. One to 80s sleaze classic Motel Hell (human with a pig head!) and some creepy rednecks that could have been cousins with the Sawyers from Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

I’m not attempting to sentence the show solely on the first episode; many shows before have started weak, then grown strong (Supergirl being a perfect example). And there are fun bits. A rainstorm of scraggly, dirty teeth falling like hail is one particular highlight. But overall I’m just disappointed with what I saw in this first hour after all the hype. But maybe Murphy and his talented cast just need some time. There’s a fine line between archetype and stereotype. A walk on the tightrope this show has done before.  But I’ll give it a few more episodes before I decide which side this season falls on.

American Horror Story: My Roanoke Nightmare airs Wednesday nights on FX at 10pm . Check your local listings for channel number info. 

 

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Author: Manny Gomez View all posts by

Manny Gomez is a freelance writer based out of Florida’s west coast. He obsessively reads interviews, binge watches TV shows, loves comics, movies, punk rock, hip-hop, stand-up comedy, detective novels and the mythology of baseball. His best friend is a dog. Follow him on Twitter @Manny1138

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