HOT PRESS COLUMN: MY TV FORTNIGHT

27 04 2015

Here’s a reprint of a recent TV column I wrote for Hot Press. WARNING: there be spoilers.

MY TV FORTNIGHT

WITH EDWIN McFEE

clown-ahs

Recently at Castle McFee I waved goodbye, with my metaphorical lobster claw, to American Horror Story: Freak Show. Now that the dust has settled on this tale of Elsa Mars’ travelling carnival, looking back I feel that the fourth series of this wildly inventive anthology (yep, I’m still not down with this Yank-ified “season” lark) was definitely a divisive one. Ultimately though, creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk should be applauded for not milking the tried and tested horror tropes this time around. As much as the FX Channel may have wanted a more straight forward show featuring large chested ladies incessantly running up stairs away from loonies whose one-liners are as sharp as their knives, the producers instead gave them (and us) an oddly sweet offering about misfits and mistakes.

Once again bolstered by another barn-storming performance from American Horror Story stalwart Jessica Lange, her turn as the fame-obsessed, German ex-pat Elsa Mars was, as expected, terrific. Full of pathos and pure ambition, the leader of the freak show was actually strangely lovable despite her [SPOILER] murderous ways. Other highlights of the 1952-set story was the tale of Pepper the Pin-Head and the eventual reveal that each series is loosely connected. While at first, one of the appeals of AMH was that each instalment featured a different theme and different characters (often played by the same troupe of actors), the comic fan in me loves the intertextuality of it all and [SPOILER] Sister Mary Eunice from American Horror Story: Asylums unannounced appearance in Freak Show was a great treat for fans. Especially as it was set before the events of the aforementioned Asylum. Poor old Sister Mary Eunice….

Anyway, other high points included Neil Patrick Harris as the mental magician Chester Creb. Obsessed with his ventriloquist dummy (which looked a little like Susan Boyle to these eyes), his brief two episode stint was mesmerizing, as was Wes Bentley’s three episode turn as the (literally) two-faced nobleman Edward Mordrake who treaded the line between camp and creepy with ease.

Now onto the negatives. Namely, lobster boy Jimmy and his relentless weeping over [SPOILERS] the murder of Meep the Geek. While I’m sure wee Meep was a lovely lad (when he wasn’t biting the heads off of chickens for a laugh), the grief was over-cooked and unconvincing. Another misfire was the handling of Twisty the Clown, who unfortunately only appeared in five of the 13 episodes. An absolutely terrifying creation inspired in part by John Wayne Gacy, actor John Carroll Lynch was superb as the misunderstood maniac. In fact, according to director Ryan Murphy, a third of the crew often left the set when he was shooting his scenes as he scared them all shit-less. Sadly though, Twisty’s reign of terror ended abruptly and although many suffering from coulrophobia won’t thank me for it, I would’ve really loved to have seen more of his mutilated mug. Some rumours have said that show-runners canned the clown early as they felt he was simply too scary and would force viewers to turn off. Wusses!

Overall, Freak Show was an enjoyable oddity and certainly better than last year’s uneven Coven. New-comer to the series Finn Wittrock was the undisputed star for me. Playing murderous mammy’s boy Dandy Mott, he rivalled Jessica Lange when it came to on screen charisma and killer lines and here’s hoping the actor returns for AMH’s fifth chapter later this year.

Speaking of series number five, the writers have revealed they hid some Easter eggs related to the next theme (American Horror Story: Hotel) throughout Freak Show for fans to speculate over. According to Ryan Murphy, the various images of top hats in different episodes are worth paying attention to. Oh, and Lady Gaga will join the cast. Consider me more than intrigued.





MY TV FORTNIGHT

16 05 2014

I was asked to write a TV column for Hot Press a few weeks ago. The title says it all really, kids. Here’s a reprint.

 

MY TV FORTNIGHT

WITH EDWIN McFEE

Ever since I was a child I’ve had a fascination with all things frightening and creepy (think Count Dracula and demons from the eternal pit rather than Eamon Dunphy in drag there, folks). For years I’ve been positively thrilled and terrified in equal measure by macabre tales told via the medium of film, novels and comic books. In recent times, the humble tellybox has also become relied upon to provide solid instalments of spooky stories too and this rekindled love affair between horror and the small screen has yielded some pretty spectacular results, I have to say.

 

Though I am still currently mourning the end of the sublime, Jessica Lange-led American Horror Story: Coven, the present mainstream fascination with the darker side of life means that there have been plenty of programmes to keep me contented while I wait for the Hallowe’en debut of Freak Show, the fourth chapter of the series. One of those shows is Bates Motel on Universal.

 

Telling the story of a teenage Norman Bates and his mother Norma (altogether now- “MOTHERRRRRR!!”), series two of this prequel to the Hitchcock film Psycho has just started at the time of writing and I’ve been soaking up every minute of this diabolically good drama. Set in modern day America, it’s essentially a dark love story between two psychologically damaged characters. One of my favourite things about the programme is the handling of future serial killer Bates’ origins as we’re not quite certain if Norman has always been, well, a psycho, or if his mother made him this way. At least not at first anyway….

 

Speaking of Norman’s dear old ma, Vera Farmiga lights up the screen as the misguided, occasionally mental Norma. In some ways, Bates Motel is her show as she steals every scene she’s in. Despite playing a character with more mental problems than Jay Z (yes, that would be 100 or so), Farmiga makes her sympathetic and funny and thanks to her performances you almost forgive her controlling, borderline incestuous ways. With a third series already confirmed (sorry, I still can’t quite bring myself to use the American term of “season”), it’s looks like Bates Motel will be open for business for the next few years and I can’t wait to see where it all leads to.

 

Just as I was welcoming a new show in through the doors of Castle McFee this fortnight, I have also been bidding one adieu. Fox’s The Walking Dead drew to a close recently and while some have been moaning louder than the titular cadavers over the final episode of series four, I must admit I’ve been enjoying the continuing journey of Rick, Michonne et al.

 

Admittedly part of that reason is due to a feeling of loyalty for the source material, ie-the Image comic penned by Robert Kirkman and drawn by Charlie Adlard. I’ve been reading the book since my brother handed me the first issue ten years ago (it’s now valued at $10 000 and yes, I am insanely envious over this matter), and although the mainstream success of the TV translation has surprised and slightly bewildered me, it does my cold, black heart good to see a then unknown comic become a pop culture phenomenon.

 

But back to the TV show. After weathering the storm that was series two (seriously, if Rick’s son Carl had followed orders and never the left the house I swear nothing would have happened during the 13 episodes other than farmer Hershel licking his lips a lot and talking about the Baby Jesus), the fourth instalment has been an enjoyable affair. Informed by the source material more than ever, I liked getting to know some of the group of survivors a little better and without spoiling anything for those who haven’t watched the final episode yet, all I’ll say is let’s just hope Rick Grimes’ gang hasn’t eaten the meat at Terminus by the time we rejoin them for series five…