This week brings the premiere of two radically different, but equally stimulating shows. FX's disturbing, inventive American Horror Story returns for a new installment Wednesday. Also on Wednesday, Hulu will present its new rom-com, Casual, a surprisingly intelligent show about dating for thirtysomethings.
American Horror Story: Hotel seems to have all the ingredients of a memorable horror classic.
Driven by a great goth sound track of funereal dirges by Joy Division and Bauhaus, the fifth incarnation of the anthology series features an unforgettable performance by Lady Gaga - at turns stunning and creepy, beautiful and grotesque - as a vampire countess who rules over an assortment of monstrous atrocities at a gorgeous art deco hotel in Los Angeles called the Hotel Cortez.
Hotel premieres at 10 p.m. Wednesday with an extended, 62-minute episode.
Lady Gaga's oversexed character shares her bed with her protege, Donovan, an ex-heroin addict played by White Collar's beautiful Matt Bomer. They make for a striking couple, reminiscent of the vampiric couple played by David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve in Tony Scott's The Hunger as they pick up young, beautiful men and women to seduce, kill, and consume.
But the Gaga-Bomer dyad is merely one weave in a far grander tapestry of heterogeneous couples and duos who make up the crimson-red fabric of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk's show this season. (Almost all the characters in Hotel are matched up in pairs.)
The overall picture is just a little too busy, too dense. The first episode of Hotel - the only one available to critics - is so busy trying to set up its divergent cast of characters it ends up being confusing and exhausting.
It's a maddening mess the following episodes need to untangle. And I hope they do so in a gentler fashion. AHS has never been afraid to pile on the gore, but the violence in Hotel is excessive even by the show's standards.
Hotel features a slew of beloved AHS regulars as the monstrous denizens of the Cortez, including Denis O'Hare as the cross-dressing bellboy Liz Taylor, Sarah Paulson as the ghostly Hypodermic Sally, Lily Rabe as serial killer Aileen Wuornos, and Kathy Bates as hotel manager Iris, whose job it is to ensure the vampires get a steady, fresh, well-fed supply of victims.
The monsters are counterbalanced by Detective John Lowe (AHS newcomer Wes Bentley). He's hot on the trail of a serial killer who uses vicious, metal sex toys on his victims.
Murphy and Falchuk have yet to disappoint. Despite its many apparent problems, Hotel has the potential to become another AHS winner.
Writer-director Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air) brings his quirky, subtle, wry sense of humor to the small screen with Casual, an immensely likable rom-com about dating and sex that's refreshingly frank and intelligent.
The 10-episode comedy premieres Wednesday on Hulu, which will post a new episode each week.
Michaela Watkins, a member of the acclaimed Groundlings troupe in Los Angeles, stars as Valerie, a recently divorced 39-year-old therapist and single mother who left her husband after she caught him having sex with a 20-year-old.
At loose ends, Valerie nd her 16-year-old daughter, Laura (Tara Lynne Barr), move in with Valerie's brother Alex (Tommy Dewey), who has made a killing by creating a dating site.
A confirmed bachelor with commitment issues, he uses his site to hook up with a different woman each week. But he's also eager to help his sis, so Alex puts her profile on the site.
Casual, which also follows Laura's remarkably liberated sex life, is miles apart from the typical network sitcom. It's about intelligent, well-read people who actually speak like intelligent, well-read people.
In each episode, Valerie faces a new dating hurdle.
In the opener, she decides to handle her first disastrous post-marriage date by taking a random guy home for a one-night stand. When he's accosted by Alex the next morning, the guy admits he wasn't able to perform. Ever the helpful dude, Alex decides to fix him up with a few loose women to get his confidence up. Once he feels better about himself, Alex explains, he can ask Valerie out again.
In another episode, Valerie's twentysomething secretary coaches her on how to pick up a young, hot bartender.
Casual, which features salty language, is a smart, grown-up show for grown-ups who know the sexiest organ humans possess is the brain.
American Horror Story: Hotel
Premieres at 10 p.m. Wednesday on FX.
Hulu (www.hulu.com) will post new episodes each Wednesday.