‘American Horror Story’ Third Season Definitely About Witches

American Horror Story: Coven. It’s very clear here that the third season of Ryan Murphy’s batshit crazy, hypersexual anthology series will feature some witchy women. As we’ve reported, Jessica Lange, Taissa Farmiga, and Lily Rabe will all be back for the third season, as well as other regulars Evan Peters and Sarah Paulson. (Zachary Quinto assumes he’s not invited back to the party.) First of all, I’m pretty pumped for this upcoming season, because (#RememberThe90s) how great was The Craft, you guys? But also, it makes my theory that Jessica Lange is the head of a coven of Hollywood witches even more solid. Art imitates life, folks. 

[via Vulture]

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Lily Rabe Returns for ‘American Horror Story’ Third Season

Actress Lily Rabe, who was a part of our annual New Regime last month, has certainly received approval from TV honcho Ryan Murphy. After nabbing a featured role on the first season of American Horror Story and getting her name in the credits for American Horror Story: Asylum (and getting possessed by the devil, no big whoop), Rabe will be returning to the show for the series third season. The details are still pretty slight, but Rabe will be reteaming with season two regulars Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson, and Evan Peters, as well as season one cast member Taissa Farmiga

[via EW; Photo by Emilie Elizabeth]

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BlackBook’s List Of The Best And Brightest Stars Of 2013

The New Regime 2013

Whether in front of the camera, or up to the mic, or behind the bar, the stars collected in our sixth annual declaration of the best brightest talents in film, music, television, art, and nightlife are all ready for their close-ups. Pay attention to these faces, because you’ll be seeing them often.

The New International: ALICIA VIKANDER

In the recent adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Sweden-born Alicia Vikander plays Kitty, the virtuous, if naïve, counterpart to the immoral titular character played by Keira Knightley. Kitty is one of the few characters in the film to break out of the claustrophobic stage setting employed by director Joe Wright that ensnares the other Russian aristocrats. Not that being on stage has ever daunted the 24-year-old. “My mother’s an actress, and when we didn’t have a babysitter, I would come with her to the theater,” she explains. Already an award-winning actor in her home country, Vikander became an international star after appearing in the Danish film A Royal Affair earlier this year, playing the adulterous Queen of Denmark, Caroline Matilda. Although Anna Karenina was her first English-language film, she’s eager to continue to work on international projects. To that end, she shot alongside Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore this past summer. “It’s a very big adventure film,” she says of the project, helmed by Russian director Sergei Bodrov. And although Vikander is returning home to Sweden, she hopes to make her way back to the States soon. “The industry is so small in Scandinavia,” she explains. But for Vikander it’s not the size of the industry that counts. “I just want to continue to work with people—actors and directors—I admire.” —Tyler Coates

Photo Alisa Connan
Styling Angie Smith
Makeup Emma White Turle @ Red Represents
Hair Alex Price @ Frank Agency

The New

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau has been a hair’s breadth from becoming a household name for longer than seems justifiable. He starred in two Fox series that didn’t catch—as a 400-year-old homicide detective in New Amsterdam, which had an eight-episode run, and as the lead in the cult favorite sci-fi pilot, Virtuality, which was co-written by Ronald Moore (Battlestar Galactica) and directed by Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights)—but with his front-and-center role as the incestuous, gold-plated Jaime Lannister on HBO’s Game of Thrones, he’s finally beginning to take his rightful place in the spotlight. In the fantastic 2011 Norwegian film Headhunters, he played a revenge-seeking CEO who put his nemesis through a world of shit, literally. (Mark Wahlberg is planning a stateside remake of the film, and Nikolaj jokes about how busy the actor/producer is, saying, “He does catering on Game of Thrones.”) When asked about his lead role opposite Jessica Chastain in the upcoming Guillermo del Toro-produced supernatural thriller Mama, he instantly sings the first line of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” “I can’t watch movies like that,” he says. “They freak me out.” In an appealing confession for someone so tall (6’ 2”) and square-jawed, he says, “The idea of ghosts scares the shit out of me,” adding that he even had trouble watching the rough cut of the film. “I had to turn the sound off.” In 2013 he’ll appear alongside Tom Cruise and Olga Kurylenko as a battle-hardened weapons expert in the big-budget sci-fi epic, Oblivion, and opposite Juliette Binoche in A Thousand Times Goodnight. When prodded for hints about season three of Game of Thrones, which premieres in March, he’s appropriately tight-lipped. He also admits to not reading the books until after he gets the scripts. “I don’t want to get attached to anything too specific with the character because they make changes for the show,” he says. “I don’t want to start questioning their decisions. After all, they got us this far.” —Adam Brent Houghtaling

Photo Aaron Richter
Styling Christopher Campbell
Grooming Tayler Treadwell
Location Acme Studios, Brooklyn

The New Sound of Young America: HAIM

“We grew up on TLC, Aaliyah, Missy Elliott, Backstreet Boys, and ’N Sync,” says guitarist and vocalist Danielle Haim of the ’90s R&B influence in the sister act’s sound. “We still listen to Top 40 radio most of the time, but through our parents we listened to classic rock and Motown and funk.” All those sounds blend together in the celebratory pop of HAIM. Danielle, 22, has the highest profile in the band, having toured with Julian Casablancas and Jenny Lewis, but along with multi-instrumentalist Alana, 20, and bassist Este, 24, the trio—who recently added drummer Dash Hutton to the band—have years of live experience after playing in family band Rockenhaim with their parents when they were young; “Alana was four,” says Danielle. “We always thought we would end up working together on something more serious. We just didn’t know how to get there.” They went the great-artists-steal route while learning the songwriting process, taking their favorite songs and refashioning them as their own. They soon began playing live and building a loyal following in their native Los Angeles. But recording proved to be a difficult process. “Every year we would go into the studio and try to make a record and it always sounded… not good,” says Danielle, but each instance was an education. After “fucking around on three songs for six months” the Forever EP finally appeared this past February, and their fortunes have sharply improved ever since. They recently signed to Columbia Records and are now under a little more pressure to turn out a full-length album, which Danielle vaguely suggests they’ll be ready to release in the early half of 2013. —ABH

Photo Dan Monick
Styling Christopher Campbell
Makeup Sandra Ganzer @ Jed Root
Hair Candice Birns for candicebirns.com using Orbie Haircare
Location Siren Studios, Los Angeles

The New Hollywood Believer: NATE PARKER

“I think I’m an activist before I’m an artist,” says actor Nate Parker, whose favorite roles exhibit a strong social perspective. “I love the arts, but I think a platform is no good if you can’t use it to better your fellow man.” With electrifying supporting roles in Spike Lee’s coming-of-age drama Red Hook Summer and Nicholas Jarecki’s Wall Street thriller Arbitrage, the 33-year-old Virginia native claims he tries to make it “extremely difficult not to cast” him. But Parker didn’t always have Hollywood ambitions. Having received a degree in computer science from the University of Oklahoma, it was only after accompanying a friend to an audition in Dallas that he was inspired to begin acting. At the audition, Parker was approached by a manager who asked him to read a monologue and, after watching him perform, insisted that he move out to Los Angeles immediately to pursue an acting career. “I try to live my life completely without fear,” says Parker who, without hesitation, uprooted his life—moving to Los Angeles within four days. As a “firm believer in process,” before auditioning for his longtime hero, Denzel Washington, Parker wrote a 100-page biography of the character he was in contention for after hearing a tip about the elder statesman’s own methods. He impressed the Oscar-winning actor/director, landing a role in his film, The Great Debaters. “These journeys we go on as actors, in many ways, are a call to tap into our own experiences,” says Parker. And perhaps it’s his competitive background as an athlete, or the fact that he left home at the age of fourteen and endured the life experiences of someone much his senior, but Parker’s work ethic and confidence are unquestionably setting him ahead of the young Hollywood pack. —Hillary Weston

Photo Dan Monick
Styling Natalie Toren
Grooming Kristen Shaw @ Jed Root

The New Thespian: LILY RABE

“I’ve always wanted to perform,” says Lily Rabe, channeling the plucky sensibility of her childhood self. “I remember going by the Broadway Dance Center and seeing the dancers in the window. The teacher said I was too young to train there—I was still wearing diapers. My mother told me that within two weeks I had potty-trained myself and was like, ‘Alright, let’s go!’” While adamant against acting as a young girl, she came around to the craft in high school. It’s no surprise given her fortitude—and her pedigree (her parents are playwright David Rabe and the late actor Jill Clayburgh)—that she’s become a respected performer by the age of 30. “I was so determined to do it differently from my parents,” she explains. “I wanted to forge my own path.” After attending Northwestern University, Rabe returned to her native New York and landed a role in a Broadway revival of Steel Magnolias in 2004. Highly praised performances followed, most notably as Portia in The Merchant of Venice opposite Al Pacino’s Shylock, for which she earned a Tony nomination. After two more starring turns on stage, Rabe headed to L.A. to play poltergeist Nora Montgomery on American Horror Story. She returns to the psychosexual drama for its second season—American Horror Story: Asylum—as Sister Mary Eunice, and this time around goes head-to-head against recent Emmy winner Jessica Lange. “It’s the best kind of challenge, and I’m having an incredible time,” she gushes, while keeping mum about this season’s shocks and terrors. Both American Horror Story and her starring role in The First, an upcoming biopic about silent film legend Mary Pickford, will keep her on the west coast for a few more months, but she’s already planning a trip back east. “I’ll return to New York soon,” she says. “I get itchy when I’m not doing a play.” —TC

Photo Emilie Elizabeth
Styling Marissa Joye Peden
Makeup Joanna Schlip @ Cloutier Remix
Hair Danny Rishoff @ Tracey Mattingly
Photo Assistant Adrian Espinosa
Location The Jesus Wall, Los Angeles

The New Short Seller: JIM GAVIN

“All the stories in the collection were rejected everywhere until I sent one to The New Yorker, unsolicited, and they took it,” says author Jim Gavin of the pieces that make up his first short story collection, Middle Men, which is being published this coming February by Simon & Schuster. From his home in Culver City, Gavin writes about a side of Los Angeles that is often overlooked in favor of the city’s more glamorous reputation. His stories are sun-bleached and overflowing with bloviating salesmen and well-meaning people with dried-up checking accounts. “They’re all stories I wanted to tell for a long time, I just didn’t know how,” he says. “They’re very autobiographical.” The titular two-part story, “Middle Men,” comes straight from his own experience as a plumbing supplies salesman. “That’s what people want to read about,” he quips, “industrial plumbing in southern California.” “I think writing fiction in Los Angeles is fun,” he says. “There’s a healthy remove from the New York literary world and there’s a great fiction scene flourishing here in the shadows of Hollywood.” For a time, he worked on the sports desk at The Orange County Register—“It gave me a thick skin, but it burnt me out. I lived like a vampire.”—and recently finished an MFA at Boston University, but he credits a handful of adult education classes at UCLA as being a turning point in his life. “That’s when I started to get serious [about the work],” he says. Following the sale of the collection, he’s moved on to his first novel, which has also been sold to Simon & Schuster—but don’t expect to see it any time soon. “It’s a fun, grueling, terrible process,” he says. “I have no idea what I’m doing, but I can sort of see the horizon.” —ABH

Photo Emilie Elizabeth

The New Double Threat: SAINT LOU LOU

“We’re floating.” These are the first words Miranda Kilby (the brunette one) says after we establish a trans-oceanic connection with her and her sister, Elektra. And the twins, both 21, should be floating. The universal adoration the duo has received for their first single, “Maybe You,” is nothing less than amazing; the song is a hypnotic re-imagining of ABBA’s melancholy side as run through a chillwave filter (listen at soundcloud.com/saintloulou). They certainly didn’t expect it to spread like wildfire over the internet as it has (it’s since been released as a single via Kitsuné Records). “It was crazy. It was a rough demo that took off and then got mastered and became the single,” says Miranda. “Overnight it became this big thing.” Born in Australia, but raised primarily in Sweden with holiday jaunts back down under, the girls grew up in a musical environment, but were initially more interested in becoming academics. “I think Saint Lou Lou chose us,” says Elektra. “Time chose us. It does feel like destiny.” They’re still getting to know themselves as songwriters while they carefully gather material for more singles and, eventually, an album. When asked about what they’re working on for the future, they say people will be surprised. “Some of the songs are more up- tempo,” Miranda says. Elektra quickly leaps in to add, “When we say up-tempo, it’s still down-tempo.” As the interview wraps, Miranda asks, “So are you going to use the crazy twins angle? The sultry twins angle?” A question she quickly follows with the sweetest of threats: “I don’t like that. If you do, we’ll come and knock on your door one day. You can be sure.”—ABH

Photo Alisa Connan
Styling Angie Smith
Makeup Emma White Turle @ Red Represents
Hair Alex Price @ Frank Agency
Photo Assistant Jack Lawson
Stylist’s Assistant Danielle Whiteman

The New Innovator: CHADWICK BELL

“I was a little awkward. I’d paint all the time, all night even, then go to school the next day with the paintings,” says 30-year-old womenswear designer Chadwick Bell of his teenage years in Southern California. Bell was drawn to art at a young age, but ultimately gravitated toward fashion, getting his start in retail at Dolce & Gabbana while studying design and media arts at UCLA. After graduation, he and Vanessa Webster, a childhood friend-turned-business partner, set their sights on the Big Apple. “I was visiting Vanessa while she interned in New York during our sophomore year of college, and it sort of sealed the deal that this is where we needed to be,” he says. “New York just felt right,” he adds. “I’m just a little too high strung for California.” Bell found his first muse in Webster, who in turn likes to say that she discovered his talent. “There’s a mutual push between us,” says the designer. “Nobody can get me to do things the way she does.” Chadwick Bell—the brand—made its debut at New York Fashion Week in fall 2008. The collection stemmed from one of his many fantasies about “the Chadwick Bell woman,” someone who is always “worldly, modern, chic.” That season he found inspiration from a 1940s Robert Capa photo of American socialite Slim Keith holding a shotgun while bird hunting with Ernest Hemingway. For spring 2013, Bell places his muse in the American Southwest (“New Mexico, to be exact”), envisioning her on a “personal crusade for clarity.” While focusing on minimalism, illusion, and austerity, the collection, entitled “Nirvana,” features clean lines and a neutral color palette with splashes of green and yellow. And then it’s on to next season’s designs. “All we can do is recreate and reinvent,” he says. “I plan to be doing this forever.” —Ryma Chikhoune

Photo Alexander Wagner
Photo Assistant Ken Morton


Zal Batmanglij’s hauntingly seductive first feature, Sound of My Voice, opened this past year to critical praise, establishing him as one of the most innovative voices in a new wave of American independent cinema. “I’m excited to make movies that feel real even in the most fantastical situations,” says the 31-year-old director. After studying anthropology at Georgetown University, Batmanglij attended AFI’s graduate school for directing—and what better course of inquiry for a filmmaker whose debut walked the line between in-depth ethnographic study and psychological thriller? Sound of My Voice, co-written with the film’s star Brit Marling, tells the story of a couple who infiltrates a cult in order to expose its leader who claims to have time-traveled from the future. “A story is a disguise that allows you to bypass people’s defenses and enter the innermost chambers of their hearts,” Batmanglij says. Following their success with Sound of My Voice, Batmanglij and Marling collaborated again for his upcoming directorial feature, The East, a drama about a young woman who goes undercover to join an anarchist collective—starring Marling, Ellen Page, and Alexander Skarsgård. “So much of what Brit and I have to do as writers is to go live,” says Batmanglij, who actually stayed in an anarchist collective with Marling prior to making the film— understanding the importance of “living something authentic” in order to come back and tell an original story. Inspired by directors from Krzysztof Kieslowski to Alan J. Pakula, it’s evident that Batmanglij has a zeal for creating stories that stem from the anxieties of the modern age as shown through a lens that exposes the mysticism lurking just beneath the surface. “I feel tremendously lucky to be a filmmaker in this decade,” reveals Batmanglij, “but it’s also daunting because nobody knows what the fuck is going on. We live in a strange, strange time.” —HW

Photo Dan Monick
Styling Natalie Toren
Grooming Kristen Shaw @ Jed Root

The New Multi-Talent: DOMHNALL GLEESON

“I hate having my picture taken,” says actor Domhnall (pronounced “tonal”) Gleeson during our photo shoot. It’s a surprising confession considering the infectious energy he brings to the set as he poses and pratfalls for the camera. One of a family of acting Gleesons—he’s the son of character actor Brendan Gleeson, and his brother, Brian Gleeson, is also an actor—Domhnall seems to have his fingers in every aspect of the business. His resume is already flush with choice roles in films like the final two Harry Potter installments (as the scarred, elder Weasley, Bill), 2010’s Never Let Me Go and True Grit, and the recent adaptation of Anna Karenina, but that’s just the beginning. He earned a Tony nomination in 2006 for his part in the Broadway play The Lieutenant of Inishmore, co-wrote and starred in sketches for the six-part Irish comedy show, Your Bad Self, and wrote and directed two short films—2009’s What Will Survive of Us, which he refers to as “the anal sex one,” and Noreen, which stars his father and brother as incompetent police officers. Writing, acting, directing—is there anything the 29-year-old Dubliner can’t do? “I haven’t done any interpretative dance yet,” he says with a long sigh. But he has gotten a haircut. When asked about what happened to his trademark long ginger locks, he laughs and says, “Really…I’d done as much with my hair as I possibly could.” Coming up, he’ll play the romantic lead opposite Rachel McAdams in About Time, and he’s learning to play guitar for the rock comedy Frank, for which he’ll go head-to-head with Michael Fassbender. And it turns out he’s camera-shy when filming as well, admitting that being in front of the camera is nerve- wracking. “What’s so terrifying—and exciting—is that it remains forever.” —ABH

Photo Aaron Richter
Styling Christopher Campbell
Grooming Tayler Treadwell
Location Acme Studios, Brooklyn

The New King of Cocktails: JOAQUIN SIMÓ

“I love this window,” Joaquín Simó says, gesturing to a large half-moon aperture facing a soggy Avenue B in New York’s East Village. After five-and-a-half years making cocktails in the inky shadows of venerated spirits den Death & Co., and earning the title of America’s Best Bartender at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail industry gathering, the academic-turned- bartender is seated comfortably in his recently-opened bar, Pouring Ribbons. “The devil is in the details,” he says, referring not only to novel cocktail ingredients like his house-made corn milk, but also to remembering customers’ names and their favorite drinks. Simó, a Cuban-Ecuadorian-American, learned hospitality from a priest at his first job, making coffee in a Miami church office. He picked up the art of bartending—shooting the shit, cutting people off—from a couple of Irish guys in Boston. And he perfected the trade of making cocktails— balancing ingredients, the art of the elegant pour— with guidance from modern legends like Phil Ward and Brian Miller (both formerly of Death & Co. and now at Mayahuel and Lani Kai, respectively). Now Simó makes a Southside that would put the 21 Club to shame and blasphemously stirs up a killer Negroni without a drop of Campari (he prefers Luxardo Bitters). On any given night Pouring Ribbons is busy with a mixture of recognizable barkeeps, chefs, and cocktail aficionados. It’s a bar owner’s dream. “I knew New York was going to make or break me. It is the best city in the country to be completely anonymous, or the city where you can find the biggest, brightest stage.” —Leslie Pariseau

Photo Eric Medsker
Photo Assistant Anthony Tafuro
Location Pouring Ribbons, NYC

The New Pride of Manchester: JOSEPHINE

“When I was a kid I used to listen to a lot of indie rock,” says 29-year-old singer-songwriter Josephine Oniyama. “A lot of Oasis and Nirvana, and my mom used to play a lot of highlife music like Fela Kuti and King Sunny Adé. And as I’ve gone along I’ve begun to enjoy the American Songbook and American folk like Woody Guthrie and Odessa.” Her addictive debut album, Portrait, is reflective of the many influences that informed it. She also feels a deep connection to her home city of Manchester, which has produced some of the greatest U.K. bands including The Smiths, The Stone Roses, and the aforementioned Oasis. “I’ve always felt connected to the history here,” she says. Portrait was written and recorded over a long length of time, and the album’s final material was finished a full 18 months before it finally saw release in October. In terms of songwriting, she says, “I’m a years kind of person,” explaining that the germ of a song—a riff, a verse, a chorus—can sit for 12 months or more before it takes another step forward. “When it comes to finishing songs off, I’m terrible,” she says. “It’s a great help to have people like my producer to help carry it along.” She co-wrote three tracks on Portrait with British singer-songwriter Ed Harcourt—including the sweeping album opener, “We Were Trespassers,” and the fragile finale, “House of Mirrors.” Now with a bona fide critical success to her name, she’s been hitting the road with The Noisettes and Rodrigo y Gabriella, and in the new year you’ll find her playing a string of U.K. dates with Paloma Faith. —ABH

Photo Alisa Connan
Styling Angie Smith
Makeup Emma White Turle @ Red Represents
Hair Alex Price @ Frank Agency
Photo Assistant Jack Lawson
Stylist’s Assistant Danielle Whiteman

The New Prince of California Cuisine: ARI TAYMOR

Alma is the most exciting restaurant in Los Angeles right now and it sits in the most unlikely of locations: next to Las Palmas, a hostess club on South Broadway in Downtown, and across the street from the United Artists Theatre, a long-empty movie palace. The restaurant opened in June, and Ari Taymor, its 26-year-old chef, is already one of the most intriguing culinary names in the country. His cooking is a compelling version of California cuisine that balances reverence for farmer’s market produce with the avant-garde aesthetic and complex textures of Nordic culinary heavyweight René Redzepi, chef at Copenhagen’s lauded Noma. In Taymor you can chalk up another motivating victory for Alice Water’s inspirational Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse. It was a meal at the influential locavore restaurant nearly six years ago that led him to pick up a chef ’s knife. He sharpened his skills at Bar Tartine and Flour + Water in San Francisco, but when it came to stepping out on his own, he headed for Los Angeles. “I wanted to seclude myself from the influence of the Bay Area,” he says. “It’s too hard to shut yourself out from it and develop your own style.” He needn’t worry. His style is already distinct, but Alma is very much a work in progress. The kitchen may make squid-ink ice cream—a black orb of which sat on top a dish of dry-aged steak tartare—with a $4,000 Pacojet, but diners still sit in the faux snakeskin booths selected by the previous tenants. The contrast between exacting food and disheveled surroundings is charming, but Taymor can’t wait to make changes. “Having lights that don’t look like they came from a brothel in Katmandu, and not having a countertop made of Formica, those things are important to me, but not more important than being able to cook and plate food.” —Willy Blackmoore

Photo Emilie Elizabeth
Photo Assistant Adrian Espinosa

The New Solo Show: DIGITS

“I just can’t stop releasing music,” says Alt Altman, the 27-year-old, Berlin-based, Toronto-bred mastermind behind moody synth-pop act Digits. There’s ample evidence to back up that statement. In 2012 alone he released the Death and Desire mixtape, the seven-song album Where Do You Belong, a serialized story album called City of the Dead, and his next EP, Only Affection, is already complete and ready to be released early in the new year. He started Digits, which grew out of his old band Europe In Colour, in 2009 with the release of his first album, Hold It Close, and the new project quickly became his focus. When asked about how it felt when The Guardian compared his mixtape Death and Desire to Human League’s unimpeachable synth-pop classic Dare earlier this year, he still sounds shocked and excited: “It was the craziest experience,” he says. “My jaw was on the floor and I even thought, ‘This is a bit much.’ Everything really took off after that… more press, more shows, everything’s been different.” When quizzed about the R&B influence that runs through much of his recent music, it becomes clear that Altman is approaching the genre sideways. While his contemporaries like the xx, How to Dress Well, and Nite Jewel pull from ’70s classics and ’90s Top 40, Altman’s soul influence comes from hip-hop and house music. “Frankie Knuckles’ work with Jamie Principle has always been a touchstone for me,” he says, “and I’m also a huge Prince fan.” Live, Digits is truly a solo show. “I’ve never played a Digits show with anyone else on the stage,” Altman says, “My drums are generated by a laptop, but I play two synthesizers live and also use a looping pedal for various synth lines and backing vocals.” It’s important to him that his fans see more than a guy standing at a computer. “I’ve been to a lot of electronic shows where it felt like nothing was happening live. So I prefer to make my shows as live an experience as possible.” — ABH

Photo Norman Wong

The New Soft-Rock Renegades: DIANA

When speaking with Joseph Shabason (saxophone and synths) and Kieran Adams (drums, samples, and synths), founders and songwriters for Toronto-based four-piece Diana, words like “substance” and “texture” tend to crop up a lot. “Joseph and I met at jazz school, which is also where we met [bassist and guitarist] Paul [Mathews],” says Adams, “but by the time we graduated, neither of us was enamored with the idea of a career as a jazz musician. At some point Joseph got a keyboard and a Pro Tools setup and we started writing pop songs, but I don’t think we figured out how to really do it until we started writing for [our first] album.” Their music is soft, fuzzy, and smart, and much of their inspiration comes from ’80s touchstones like Talk Talk’s The Colour of Spring, Tears for Fears’ Songs From the Big Chair, Roxy Music’s Avalon, and Bryan Ferry’s Boys and Girls. “I think music from that era has a combination of intelligence and pop sensibility,” says Adams, “and there’s a progressiveness in the sonic aesthetic of those albums. It’s all well played and carefully delivered.” When singer and guitarist Carmen Elle came into the process, the Diana sound gelled instantly. “I think I saw her perform when she was 16 and I was 23,” laughs Adams, “and we knew she was a perfect fit for the material we were writing.” Shaboson adds, “We would give a picture of what we wanted for a song and she would run with it. The recording of the vocals was actually hilariously quick.” Listeners can find some of the band’s work on their Soundcloud page, Forest Family Records has released their first 12-inch single, “Born Again,” and they expect their full-length to see the light of day this spring. They’re also planning a big tour in the new year that will take them through the U.S. and parts of Canada. —ABH

Photo Vanessa Heins

The New Lord of Light: DEV HARLAN

“No matter what the medium, good design is timeless, and if something has good design qualities, it will hold up outside the medium,” says Dev Harlan, a New York-based light artist whose work is a coolly modern juxtaposition of video mapping and sculpture—the projections throwing patterns of ephemeral color and light over his fractal, pyramid-based objects. “I consider video projection mapping a medium in the same category as sculpting, painting, or drawing. It’s an expressive medium, but not the be-all end-all of the work.” Harlan was homeschooled, so it’s no surprise that he became a self-taught artist. He worked in commercial design for five years, but his interest began to drift as he became more involved in experimental films and paper-craft models, all of which led to his unique work blending sculpture and light. Though he primarily works with video mapping technology, he’s also worked with L.E.D. lighting and says, “I consider myself an artist who works with light rather than an artist who works with video.” Harlan’s goal is to get as close as possible to the experience that his sculptures are glowing and says, “The projectors are a necessary evil.” He’s done commissioned work for fashion label Y-3 (at 2012’s New York Fashion Week) and the launch event for Target’s Jason Wu fall 2012 line, but it was a video of his 2011 work “Parmenides I”—a room-sized fractal orb awash in video mapping projections—that has increased his exposure more than anything else. Concerning the future, Harlan says, “It’s totally intuitive. I’m not entirely sure myself.” —ABH

Photo Alexander Wagner
Photo Assistant Ken Morton

The New Wild Card: SCOOT MCNAIRY

To call Scoot McNairy an overnight success would be selling the multifaceted actor short. For the past decade, the 32-year-old Texas native has been steadily building momentum—working everywhere from independent film, to the stage, to behind the camera, producing such features as the award-winning In Search of a Midnight Kiss (in which he also starred). But lately, McNairy has been busy working with some of Hollywood’s most acclaimed directors and garnering attention from critics and audiences alike. With roles in Ben Affleck’s political thriller, Argo, and Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly, McNairy holds his own in two of the year’s most lauded films, showing off his well-honed acting chops and ability to disappear into his characters. “It’s hard to tackle two roles at once,” admits McNairy. “I invest so much in the character. I consume myself 100 percent in their daily thoughts.” After moving to Los Angeles from Austin, Texas, to become a cinematographer, McNairy began taking acting classes for fun. He admits he was never particular about which aspect of the film world he wanted to be in. “I just knew that I wanted to work on movies,” he says. McNairy will continue his streak of challenging films with Steve McQueen’s Twelve Years a Slave and Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land, both of which are slated to open in the new year. “It’s been a great experience working with these directors; the creativity that they allow you to bring as an individual is something I wasn’t expecting,” says McNairy, who not only plans to continue taking on interesting roles, but looks to pursue directional ambitions of his own in the future. —HW

Photo Dan Monick
Styling Christopher Campbell

Makeup Sandra Ganzer @ Jed Root
Hair Candice Birns for candicebirns.com using Orbie Haircare
Location Siren Studios, Los Angeles

‘American Horror Story’: Silent Night, Deadly Night

I’m not sure if you guys are big fans of Homeland, but if you are, well, you’ll totally understand what I’m saying here about American Horror Story: Even if you are writing about the most implausible, suspend-your-disbelief from a 90-foot crane kind of crazy, you still need to be internally consistent within the dream world you make up. So for instance, no way would Carrie have ever been let back in at the CIA, even if she was right about Brody. That’s just not how it works. She has a mental problem, and it clearly makes her batshit insane, and she hid that information—a matter of national security–and don’t even get me started on this Dana storyline…whatever.

The point is: That is how this season of American Horror Story is shaping up. While it’s certainly more fun to watch than the first three episodes, when things were so staid and boring, right now the show is so cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs that it doesn’t even make sense within the logic of a program about Nazi zombies, the devil, and Jessica Lange’s accent.

For instance: Sister Mary Eunice. Is she just really bad at being the devil? At this point, she seems more like a bitchy Carrie. Her powers are super limited—she can’t see all/know everything, her murdering abilities are the same as normal psychopath, and when she does use her "gifts" they seem totally arbitrary.

For instance, this week when Sister Jude comes back into Briarcliff to kill her (which, by the way, highlights the inconsistency of the institution’s door policy if every disgruntled ex-employee with a knife can just walk in), Mary Eunice uses her MIND POWERS to throw open the cabinet with all the canes on the floor and scatter them about. But like, that’s it: a telekinetic temper tantrum. Then she "takes care" of Frank, the guard who shot Grace last episode and now wants to go to the police, by freeing a crazy-Santa freak inmate and concocting an elaborate plan to have St. Nick murder him? Crazy Santa can’t even do the job, so Sister Mary Eunice has to do it for him by slitting Frank’s throat herself.

Even for THE DEVIL, that seems like a lot of extra work.

And yikers, can we back up and talk about the insane Santa plotline? Because the most far-fetched aspect of this episode was that the producers somehow managed to get IAN MCSHANE to play a convict who, Jean Valjean-style, goes to jail for stealing a loaf of bread only to get raped by five cops in Santa outfits. So, obvs, when he gets out he takes the jolly red suit of his oppressors and becomes a rape-obsessed psycho murderer. The entire episode I was like, "Man, whoever they got to play Santa looks a LOT like Ian McShane." So good twist, when I got to the credits and saw how the mighty Deadwood has fallen. I wonder if he just went back to his trailer and cried at the indignity of what his 30+ years of thespian training in England has brought upon him.

He delivers lines like, "There is no God, but there is a Santa Claus!" or, after caning Sister Jude, "Are you soft enough yet to receive my light? Except it won’t be light you’re receiving." (It will be his penis.) Luckily, Jude stabs him in the neck with a letter opener, which puts her exactly on par with THE DEVIL in terms of magical murdering tricks. Like, she literally just foiled Mary Eunice’s plan, and why wouldn’t THE DEVIL just go kill Jude herself? Also, why would Jude need to be tricked into coming back to Briarcliff in a double-cross by Arden, after he pretends that he now sees how evil Mary is? It seemed unnecessary. Obviously, it is Jude’s top priority to be locked in a room with Mary Eunice, both making vague threats and maybe pulling each other’s hair, and she’s free to come any time thanks to Briarcliff’s open-door policy.

It was especially weird because of the preceding scene, where Arden gives Mary Eunice giant ruby earrings he’d been saving from the bowel movements of a rich Jewess in his Auschwitz days. Instead of being like "Gross, why have you been caring around shit-crusted rubies for years like you were Christopher Walken in Pulp Fiction?" Mary Eunice loves them. And Arden gets upset, because apparently that was a test to see if she was really evil/had a human reflexive gag instinct, and he is obviously torn about his new partner in crime. But I guess he got over it, because the next thing you know he’s helping murder Sister Jude.

Oh, and speaking of that open door policy, someone invited Dr. Thredson to pay a visit to Lana Winterss, despite the fact that his last encounter with Briarcliff was giving it the middle finger. Well, whatever, he finds Lana because "all the newspapers" were talking about the escaped mental patient who came back to Briarcliff after a car accident. Which is off, because Lana tells Kit earlier in the episode that they are stuck at Briarcliff because "no one knows we’re here." Except for all those newspapers.

Anyway, Thredson is about to kill Lana, but Kit, who has been sedated on a morphine drip after he allegedly kills a nun (but it was actually one of those zombie creatures), comes to the rescue and hits Thredson over the head with a trashcan. Then they tie him up and put him in a spare room while they think of a plan. The best minds of their generation, these two.

While disposing of Grace’s body, some aliens appear to Arden in the tuberculosis "death chute" and make Grace disappear. Arden looks mildly shocked, but then again, what’s he going to do? Another day, another dollar full of post-apocalyptic zombies and taking orders from Satan. He doesn’t even have time for this shit.

Follow Drew Grant on Twitter

‘American Horror Story’: Anne Frank, Nazi Killer

Have we turned a corner in this somewhat terrible but mostly boring season of American Horror Story? Perhaps we have! I mean, right off the bat guys, you know who just showed up at Briarcliff? It’s Anne Frank! Yeah, that Anne Frank! I know, we all thought she was dead too! (I mean, maybe she is. There are zombies and aliens and THE DEVIL and immortal serial killers so maybe the ghost of Anne Frank is hanging out like the Black Delilah was last season.) 

Anne Frank gets locked up at a Boston mental institution in the ’60s because she stabbed some guys in the neck with a broken bottle for saying someone was trying to "jew" down the price of…I dunno, beer? "That’s how it always starts!" She hisses at Sister Jude. The funny thing about this is that Anne Frank is apparently in hiding, after escaping Auschwitz and getting married to an American soldier who brought her to his home country and then conveniently died. Anne hasn’t told her dad or anyone she’s alive because a) Her dad has a new family (so obviously he doesn’t want to know that his daughter survived the Holocaust), and b) Her book will only work its Holocaust Part II-preventing magic if people think of her as a symbol. (Like Batman? Just like Batman.) Her diary sells because it is about a martyred teen girl, not a bitter 30-something who stabs dudes in the neck. Also, she hates royalties. 

And though we have a LOT of ground to cover today, we really need to pause here. Anne Frank has managed to spend twenty years hiding out in America? Sure, she’s good at it. We know that "hiding" is definitely in her unique set of skills. But how inconspicuous can she be when she has this little social quirk of going all Inglourious Basterds on any drunk dude who makes an ethnic slur? How is she not a serial killer at this point? A well-known serial killer, too, because Fraulein here doesn’t seem to have a problem telling Sister Jude who she really is. That’s right: she tries to get OUT of an asylum by insisting that she’s Anne Frank. 

But Sister Jude, surprisingly, kind of believes her. After all, Anne Frank does have a tattooed wrist, and even better, she freaks out when she sees Dr. Arden, claiming that she knows him from the Holocaust. Apparently he was like the Auschwitz answer to Joseph Mengele (except the Auschwitz answer to Joseph Mengele was Joseph Mengele, so I guess Arden was only in the resident training program there?).

Anyhow, the idea of Anne Frank showing up at your mental institution is a lot easier to swallow if she fingers the guy you hate the most as a secret Nazi killer, let’s be honest.

The evidence is just mounting up for Arden. Like what is he planning on doing with Chloe Sevigny, whose legs he cut off in the last episode? He is probably going to make her into one his immortal zombie creatures, because the undead were not allowed to testify in court until the late ’60s, with the landmark case of Texas State vs. BRAAAAAINS.

Also, the cops are looking into that prostitute that he tried to rape, who saw all his Nazi stuff. Well, she’s dead or something, but the cops know about what happened that night, somehow. Things are looking pretty bad for Academy Award NOMINEE (not winner, my bad) James Cromwell. Where is THE DEVIL/Sister Mary Eunice when you need a body buried these days?

Speaking of THE DEVIL living inside Blondie, he doesn’t do a lot this episode. Makes you wonder what its/her game plan is. If you were the devil, would you want to spend your days in a depressing mental ward, having to pretend to be a nun and only occasionally killing Hispanic women with scissors? Seems like a waste of time. Besides, the real creep of the week is dark-horse candidate Dr. Thresdon. He has decided to help journalist Lana Winters escape from Briarcliff, since he knows she’s not crazy, just gay. Also, she reminds him of himself? "You headshrinkers are such hypocrites," Lana spits at Thredson when he offers to get her released. "According to your bible, the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders, I’m sick." 

Okay, fair, but maybe now is not the time to take out your rainbow pin and make a stand for gay rights, lady. TAKE THE FREE PASS!

Of course, Dr. Thresdon realizes that Lana is right. Being gay IS a mental illness, and he’ll only let her out if he can "cure" her. Lana eventually relents when she hallucinates herself winning a Pulitzer for the book she’s gonna write that exposes Briarcliff as a pretty average mental institution by that era’s standards.  Obviously becoming super-saner by the second, Lana takes Thredson up on his offer to "cure" her, Clockwork Orange-style, by making her look at pictures of naked women while hooked up to an I.V. of throw-up medicine, Apomorphine. This type of "aversion" therapy is a disturbingly real thing that psychiatrists used to do, although treatments rarely involved slipping photos of their patient’s dead girlfriends into the slide reel, I don’t think. But what can Dr. Thredson say? He’s a romantic at heart. He stole the picture from Lana’s house (normal), because he thought she might want a memento of her brutally murdered girlfriend (normal) that will make her vomit every time she looks at it (very normal, nothing to see here). 

Then comes the fun part! Without removing the I.V., Thredson makes Lana masturbate to and with an especially attractive, asexual-looking mental patient named Daniel. Hi Daniel! Where have you been all season? Thresdon keeps cheering Lana on as she sobbingly tries to make herself orgasm while touching Daniel’s "tumescence." (Fun fact: Danielle Steele was hired by Ryan Murphy to write all the euphemisms this season, which is why we keep hearing ostensibly threatening characters toss around terms like "mossy bank" and "rosebud tits.")

It’s a great scene though…maybe the best of the season. Somehow Thredson’s "compassion" is twenty times more horrifying than Sister Jude’s pious beatings or Arden’s over-the-top scary surgeon routine. It reminds me of when Zachary Quinto was on Heroes. His brain-eating, superpower-consuming character Sylar was so disturbing because he looked and acted like such a nice young man. If they re-re-make Psycho, Quinto should totally be Norman Bates.

The good head doctor is on some sort of charity tour, because he also promises Kit that he’ll lie to the judge and give an official diagnosis that he is too insane to stand trial for the Bloody Face murders. That way, Kit can stay at Briarcliff and not get the electric chair. But that’s only if Kit admits that he is really Bloody Face, even though Thredson now suspects that Kit is not the serial killer. 

So, to recap: If Kit can make Thredson believe he murdered three women, Thredson promises to tell the world that he didn’t murder those three women that both he and Kit know he didn’t murder. What? Yes. Anne Frank. 

Later in the kitchen, Kit and his BFF Grace sum up American Horror Story’s interpretation of mental health in one of the most amazing dialogue sequences in history: 

Kit: What if I did make up all this stuff about alien abductions? What if I did murder those women?
Grace: Why are you bringing this up now? 
Kit: Dr. Thredson is starting to say some things that make sense.
Grace: Well, if you were crazy, they wouldn’t make sense to you. Self-doubt is a sure sign of sanity. [Ed. note: Nope.]
Kit: Wait, you are confusing me. So you’re saying that if I were crazy, I wouldn’t believe Dr. Thredson, but if I’m sane, then my crazy stories would be true?
Grace: I have no idea what you just said.

Then they literally just start having sex on the kitchen counter, because thinking hurts their tiny, sane-or-whatever brains. It’s pretty hot, because Kit starts choking her, but then wait… Is that the same counter where the county’s best molasses bread comes from?! Gross! 

Oh, I forgot to mention, Grace tells Kit that she’s locked up in Briarcliff because her stepsister got her boyfriend to murder her stepmom and dad and frame her for it. So, that is a backstory.

Luckily, they are caught and Sister Jude sentences them both to forced sterilization. Which I’m pretty sure you couldn’t even defend back in the uptight ’60s as this is consensual man-on-woman intercourse, but apparently the nun can’t let a "murder baby" into the world. (Sister Jude has seen Dexter, and she knows has this shit works.) 

Sister Jude is in a particularly bad mood because the police won’t arrest Dr. Arden for murder and possible Nazism, and when she calls her crush, Monsignor Tim Howard, to rat him out, the priest makes an appearance for the first time in a while to yell at her and makes her very 🙁 for being a snoop. But then it turns out Howard is in league with Arden, because he calls the doctor and warns him that "they are onto him." The non-plot thickens!

Feeling vulnerable, Jude is actually openly sympathetic later on when Kit comes to her, confused from his overly-complicated Inception-style therapy session, and tries to confess to sins he doesn’t know if he committed or not. That makes Jude remember that time she ran mowed the shit out of a child with her car (how can we forget?), and she lets him keep his balls. 

It turns out Grace did kill her dad and stepmom, but only because he was molesting her. She is sorry she lied to Kit, but he’s like, "It’s okay." Also, she’s still going to lose her uterus so they can still have sex without any fear of murder babies.

Anne Frank confronts Arden is his lab. "I know who you are!" She screams. “You don’t even know who you are!" Arden sneers. "Anne Frank? She died. Or didn’t you bother to read the book?" (Another fun fact: They had zingers in the ’60s, but they called them "zingles" and they cost a nickel at the corner store.) With no good retort, Anne Frank just shoots Arden in the leg with the gun she stole from the cops sent to question him earlier in the episode. But before she kills him, she hears scary scratching noises from behind one of his doors and demands that he give her the key to open it. Unusually bad self-preservation instinct, Anne Frank! When she does get the monster door open, a legless, face-melty Chloe Sevigny drags herself out. 

"Kill meeeee," she rasps. 

"Hi, I’m Anne Frank," says Anne Frank. Dr. Arden moans in pain, remembering all those Golden Globes he won for Six Feet Under

And now it’s TO BE CONTINUED.

Follow Drew Grant on Twitter.

‘American Horror Story’: Hurricane Sandy Comes To Briarcliff

Well, last night’s episode hit a little close to home, didn’t it? Look, I’m not saying that Ryan Murphy’s team of psycho-horror fanboys over there writing American Horror Story were necessarily psychic when they devoted this week’s episode to a Nor’Easter (which also happened to be the title) the same week Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast and scared us all shitless. That was probably just a coincidence. After all, if you throw enough creepy pasta at a wall, eventually something is going to stick, and last night we saw spaghetti flying everywhere. Somewhere else in the country, someone was probably like, "How did this show know that I am very scared of having my legs amputated by Nazi war criminals?" while someone else (probably on the West Coast) was like, "How did this show know how very scared I am that Adam Levine is almost impossible to kill, even with one arm?"

I mean, “Nor’Easter” had something for everyone, and that continued this season’s pattern of being terrible by trying to please everyone at once. Did we really need to see a possessed nun deal with mutant zombies? Or watch torture porn scenes of Kit getting stabbed in the neck by Dr. Arden, who has revealed himself to be a brother of the good doctor from Marathon Man? (His accent is even more impeccable than Lawrence Olivier’s!) Did we need to have both a Wes Craven-esque opening sequence where the crazies who (finally) kill Adam Levine and Mrs. Channing Tatum then get stalked themselves by the real Bloody Face, as well as an entire "drunk nun getting creepy phone calls from the girl she accidentally ran over/Satan?" How about we just deal with one problem at a time, American Horror Story? Slow down, you have all season!

The problem of throwing the entire kitchen sink into one episode is that, at a certain point, you pass you fear threshold and things just become comical. I watched this episode in the middle of Hurricane Sandy, and instead of quaking with fear over nature’s ability to call down insanity from the sky, I was cracking up over the site of a legless Chloe Sevigny. I don’t even know how that makes sense, even in the world of Briarcliff. Much like Sister Jude’s problem with Lana Winters staying at the asylum, the idea that Arden could keep the abduction, and amputation of the resident nymphomaniac a secret is ridiculous. What, are his chambers soundproof? Does he plan to turn her into a zombie, like his pack of Frankensteins currently guarding the premises? If so…what?

It also makes no sense that Arden periodically wheels in Kit to torture him and threaten to cut his brain out of his head. Because then what? We never see a resolution to these scenes, but Kit is always returned to the ward, meaning that the mad scientist just kind of waves around a scalpel for awhile and rants about Jews before letting the kid go free. Good thing there’s not a psychiatrist on staff that is about to tell the world that Kit isn’t Bloody Face!

Maybe this would just be easier as a glossary:

– Aliens: Sister Jude sees one when she drunk from the communal wine that the devil inside of Sister Mary Eunice entices her to drink.

– Sluts/Whores: What Dr. Arden calls everyone he tries to rape. Sometimes, he calls inanimate statues sluts. Also, there is something wrong with his penis. 

– Monsters: Bloody Face is apparently a composite of a bunch of limbs and flesh and stuff, and those monsters in the woods that Dr. Arden has some connection to seem to be made of the same misfit features.

– Satan: The one living inside Mary Eunice. Unlike Exorcist demons, this one isn’t even trying to play nice, or regress for a bit before popping back up. The nun spends the entire episode stirring up trouble, although in the most weirdly insignificant way ever. Sure, she got under Jude’s skin with all that dead girl stuff, and she finally got Arden all hot and bothered, not to mention she straight up stabbed a bitch to death and fed her to the Bloody Faces. But she also almost let five inmates escape the asylum because she was too involved in a movie? Come on, Beelzebub. Get a grip.

– Sincere Kit: So less attractive than Crying Tate. I’d wager that 99% of those watching at home have just as much interest in seeing Evan Peters’ act earnest all season as they do watching Zachary Quinto continue to be ineffectual.

– Pinhead Pepper: Now, where did she run off to? And did you know that she’s played by a very pretty actress IRL?

– Wet clothes: Tell me how both the staff of Briarcliff, Dr. Thredson, and THE DEVIL managed to miss the part where a totally freaked out Grace, Kit, and Lana re-enter the asylum after escaping into a terrible storm and coming upon the monsters in the woods?

– "I think we found the Mexican!" Best thing to shout when you come upon a dismembered body. Ever.

Follow Drew Grant on Twitter.

‘American Horror Story: Asylum’: A Candy Apple-Flavored Exorcism

I’m not sure how I feel about American Horror Story: Asylum, you guys. Because either we are in a world where Satan can inhabit a boy—and when he dies, transfers itself over to Sister Mary Eunice—OR we are in a world where the horrors are confined to barbaric hospital conditions and Academy Award nominee James Cromwell trying to rape a prostitute after dressing her up like the aforementioned nun. It can’t be both! Because as terrible as rape and electroshock therapy and BLOODY FACE all are, we are now on some next-level paranormal shit, and that will always take precedence over mortal problems. I’m sorry, Chloe Sevigny. You picked the wrong reality to try out your feminist theories about gender relations and sex, and how come men have as much sex as they want but when women do it, they’re called sluts? Take it to Mad Men, lady, because Briarcliff has some real problems.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First off, our cold open takes care of Lana Winters’ only link outside of Briarcliff, as BLOODY FACE murders her lesbian girlfriend. (Who I’m now recognizing as that chick from all those early 21st century classics like The Faculty.) Oh man, and she was planning to go recant the commitment forms she signed after Sister Jude threatened to out her! Does that mean BLOODY FACE is working with Sister Jude, or that the show didn’t want that loose end hanging over our head all season? Maybe both. Either way, I am convinced the screeching has started to get more intense in the opening sequence. Right?

First season:

Second season:

I think next season they should get these girls to do a cover, since they’ve nailed it. (Skip to 1:11 to skip weird Australian accents.)

Now that girlfriend is dead, Lana is really stuck up in Briarcliff. Though, ostensibly, neither Lana nor Sister Jude know about the murder, which really makes you wonder what the nun’s long-term plan was, here. She caught Lana snooping around and locked her up to scare her, fine. But now she’s stuck with her, and Lana is writing a bunch of notes about the terrible conditions of the hospital, which she keeps in her pillow until they are found by the U.S. Marshall from Lost who was always trying to catch Kate.  You know he is going to be a really bad guy, because he has one of those faces, like Robert Patrick or the guy who played RoboCop.

"I don’t need those sister, I have an excellent memory!" Lana boasts to Jude’s back, because she is an idiot. "Yeah, we’ll see about that," Sister Jude replies. Lana Winters just earned herself one round of electroshock therapy!

Which again, what is the point here? Sister Jude is obviously reticent to order ECT on a patient, even if it’s only because she has to go beg her mortal enemy, Dr. Science Arden to perform it. So her plan was to just keep Lana locked up forever with her nosy journalist’s brain that’s now a little less nosy because it has the demons tased out of it? That’s a remarkable lack of foresight, especially when the grounds are swarming with state officials, like the aforementioned psychiatrist, Dr. Oliver Thredson. He’s there to determine whether Kip (Tate) is mentally fit to stand trial for the murder of three women that he allegedly skinned alive as BLOODY FACE. But we know Kip isn’t BLOODY FACE, because BLOODY FACE killed Lana’s girlfriend when Kip was locked up. Still, when he tells his story of the little green men abducted his African-American wife, Dr. Thredson gives his opinion while doing the whole Carrie Bradshaw voiceover-while-smoking-while-typing thing: "Diagnosis: Acute Clinical Insanity. Would I never run into Big, and would there ever be a good time to see him? When it comes to relationships, is it smarter to follow your heart or your head?" (Not to nitpick, but "acute clinical insanity" has never been a thing. You are a terrible psychiatrist, Thredson!)

Of course, Sister Jude does not like the new doctor, because she is a woman of God and all doctors are something, whatever, you know how nuns be acting crazy. It is interesting how the show is setting up a triangulation between faith, science, and psychology with Sister Jude, Dr. Arden, and now Dr. Thredson respectively. None of them like each other, and it’s probably a metaphor for how uptight the nation still was back in the day when saying "The National Lesbian League" was still a horrible diss and not an awesome kickball team name.

Dr. Arden runs into "his favorite little helper" out in the woods, as Sister Mary Eunice is feeding the invisible monsters he keeps as pets. He wants to thank her for being such a good little double agent, so he’s brought her a candy apple. She demurs, because we all remember what happened when Eve took that caramelized fruit from the serpent. Dr. Arden insists. She demurs again. Then he’s like "Eat. The. Apple." That does the trick, and is also really uncomfortable, as are all Arden’s scenes this episode. It is deeply disturbing that the man who won an Academy Award for Babe (don’t bother, I’ve already Wiki’d it) can be so rapey!

Lana gets a new friend while getting some pampering in hydrotherapy. It’s the same French girl who befriended Kip. Her name is Grace, and she is so intensely loyal to her new blond boyfriend that even when the journalist tells her she knows of a secret way out through the death chutes, she refuses to come along without him. Lana says it’s non-negotiable because she thinks Kip is crazy and also BLOODY FACE. They part ways amicably enough.

Sister Jude gets a visit from two concerned parents. They say their teenage son has been acting out. Jude says she’s had great success curbing the problem of chronic masturbators. That doesn’t relieve the parents much, as their son’s problems are less about diddling himself and more about ripping open a live Guernsey cow and eating/smearing it all over his body. Dr. Thredson decides to poke his nose into this, because he has all the time in the world to piss off nuns. It’s not like a murder trial hinges on his diagnosis or anything, so he offers his medical expertise as they visit lil’ Jed. He’s strapped to a bed and at first seems normal before totally Linda Blairing out, speaking fluent Latin in a deep satanic voice without even a trace of the Baw-ston accent that at least half the characters on this show have.

"This boy needs to be immediately medicated!" says the psychiatrist. "No doctor, that’s not what this boy needs," says the nun. Jed just earned himself an exorcism! Unsurprisingly, it does not go well, especially when SATAN turns off the power in the asylum and Lana tries to make her escape with Grace but inadvertently tips Kip off. You’ll have to excuse me for finding her betrayal captivating. She called the guards and Kip got beat in the face, big whoop. Did you guys know that there is a literal demon upstairs right now?

And in its homage-y way, AHS has Demon Boy follow the exact script from The Exorcist. He throws priests against walls, and taunts the religious with their darkest secrets. InThe Exorcist, the demon pretends to be Father Karras’ mother, knowing that the priest blamed himself for his her death even though it wasn’t his fault. In American Horror Story, Jed knows Sister Jude feels kind of bad about the time when she was a slutty, drunk, nightclub singer and ran over a kid with her car. Totally the same thing.

Look, I’m not saying all Catholics should have a guilt complex, but maybe Sister Jude should feel a little bit more terrible about being a child murderer and also still kind of a slut, since she wants on Monsignor Howard’s scepter so damn bad? Or maybe she should act a little more sorry when she informs Jed’s parents that instead of helping their son, her staff has killed him? Nah, she has bigger problems to deal with. Like making Lana pick which instrument of torture Jude will use to punish Kip and Grace for trying to escape. (Even though it was all Lana’s idea! Bitch-Judas!)  Lana’s "gift" for being a good tattletale is watching her friend suffer, except Kip cops to the whole thing and takes all the whippings. Poor Kip.

But even more poor Sister Mary Eunice. Not only is Dr. Arden secretly obsessed with her up to the point where he hires prostitutes to pretend to be her and show him their "mossy pods," but now she is also possessed. We know this because she kicked back her covers in the hospital’s recovery room, and a cross fell off the wall. Well, these kinds of things take time to develop. No one just starts crab-walking up and down staircases after the spirit of Satan enters them. I’m pretty sure it takes a couple weeks of Pig Latin and peeing yourself till you reach that stage. Can’t wait though!

Follow Drew Grant on Twitter.

‘American Horror Story’: The Gang’s All Back! (Well, Sorta)

I loved the first season of American Horror Story. Let’s just begin with that. I thought Jessica Lange deserved the Emmy and Golden Globe. Evan Peters was robbed by not getting any nominations for "Best Crying." (I’m working off the presumption that if this was an actual category, it would just go to Claire Danes for Homeland.) I even have a sketch of Tate Langdon crying above my bed. That is how into American Horror Story I am.

I was so amped up for the second season that I must have watched those creepy promos a million times. Scary nuns! Straight jackets! M.C. Escher staircases! American Horror Story looked at shows like Twin Peaks and True Blood and correctly realized that it’s impossible to keep audiences both terrified and invested in the characters after season 1.5, so they are making each one a self-contained narrative, with it’s own cast.  But since Lange and Peters did such a good job last time around, they were hired to play two new main characters. You can pretty much imagine the state I was in last night for the premiere.

Still, I had my fears. I had my hand-wringing concerns. I was uneasy about American Horror Story’s propensity for straight homages to other scary movies, sometimes at the cost of the series’ own plot. Last season, this predilection gave the show some of its strongest themes—like the whole Rosemary’s Baby thing—but also contributed to its weakest moments. (Two thirds of the second episode was spent literally remaking The Strangers, with a couple Funny Games allusions thrown in for good measure.)

Luckily, this doesn’t seem to be the case in the new American Horror Story, which is set in a Boston mental institution in the 1960s. Except wait! Last year, the premiere began with a flashback to the ’70s. And as we begin our delve into the heart of darkness this year, we start in the present day… a flash-forward. Did American Horror Story just give itself a masturbatory self-homage? Very clever.

A little less clever, however, is the couple we are introduced in this cold open: Mrs. Channing Tatum (Jenna Dewan) and the guy with the douchey tattoos from The Voice. That’s right, Adam "Smugface" Levine is (finally?) flexing his acting chops. He’s a horny newlywed who has agreed to the world’s creepiest honeymoon: his wife wants to go have sex in the biggest haunted attractions in the country. And it just so happens that the now-abandoned Briarcliff Manor for the Criminally Insane happens to be their last stop. "So…this is goodbye," indeed. (Alternate joke: He should "move like Jagger out of there!") Instead, they fuck on an operating table.

Mrs. Tatum explains that in 1908, Briarcliff was the largest tuberculosis ward in the East Coast, which is already super scary because no one wants to die like Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge. Mid-century, the Catholic Church bought the property and turned it into a state-run mental institution. Still, the "death chute" used to funnel bacteria-infested bodies got to stay, because it slipped everybody’s mind that a building that would be housing the CRIMINALLY INSANE should probably not come equipped with its own escape tunnel to the outside world.

Also, fun fact: Among the residents of the Briarcliff was the infamous BLOODY FACE, a serial killer who skinned his victims alive. When Adam Levine hears about BLOODY FACE, he gets so scared that his arm falls off. (Hopefully it was the tattooed arm.) 

Mrs. Tatum tries to act scared now that they are trapped inside, not having sex. And they are stuck in the abandoned sanitarium with whatever scared Adam’s arm off. There’s only one way out, and it’s tuberculcious! She’ll really need to Step Up now! (Alternate joke: Too bad she didn’t take The Vow of silence before coming up with this terrible Honeymoon idea!)

CACHA! CACHA! SHZZZZ! (That’s my impression of the opening credits, feel free to make your own phonetic guesses.)

Now we are in 1964, and some jerk is having his gas pumped by a snappy youth. The guy is complaining about how it cost three whole dollars to fill up his tank. It’s supposed to be one of those moments where we role our eyes and tell this guy "You jerk! Three dollars is SO CHEAP! Wait till the future!" The problem is, three bucks is actually an insane price for gas in 1964.

Even though he has a right to be mad at the gas price, he loses our sympathy when throws his money on the ground. The poor attendant, good-naturedly suffering what is probably the latest in a long string of gas-related indignities, bends down to pick it up. He straightens up to yell "Drive Safely!" while the camera spins around the reveal…Tate!

Well, not Tate. But Evan Peters, playing some guy named Kit Walker (Pronounced "Wah-kah." Remember, this is a Boston period piece, and Kit sounds like he’s channeling Leonardo DiCaprio’s "duly appointed fehdahral maaaahshal" character from Shutter Island.). Kit doesn’t even care that he has a dumb job, or that his friends are pretty menacing and try to steal his gun within, like, two seconds of showing up at the gas station. Kit isn’t going to let that bring him down, because Kit has a secret. He’s in love! Not just in love, but married! And not just married, but married to a pretty black lady! And it’s 1964, or at least an alternative-reality 1964 where Boston has annexed itself from the north and moved down to the Deep South, where a mixed-race couple is the second worst thing you could be, besides homosexual. (Don’t worry, the show will awkwardly force a lesbian storyline into the pilot as well.)

After awesome sex with his beautiful chocolate bride, Tate sees lights outside and assumes the worst. He grabs his gun and orders Alma to stay inside. Unlucky for him, it’s not his friends or the KKK but ALIENS.

Generally, I don’t find aliens scary, but this whole sequence was terrifying. There were no little green men or slime-covered monsters. Just piercing light, screaming, objects attaching themselves to the ceiling, and a confusing sequence of shots: Kit—now sans wife—is naked, bathed in pure light one second, and then receiving electroshock therapy (presumably) at Briarcliff the next. Guess no one bought his Area 51 story.

But before we can find out what lead up to Kit’s incarceration, we meet the rest of the cuckoo’s nest. Nosy reporter Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson, who played the psychic last season) goes to Briarcliff on the pretense of writing a story about the asylum’s delicious molasses bread (no, seriously) and meets the madhouse. There’s Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe, looking considerably younger and less bitchy than she did last season as the haughty ghost-mistress of Terror House), a prostrating ditz who acts as second in command to the totally dom Sister Jude (Jessica Lange). Jude is an uptight nun who is only lax in the accent department, which comes and goes as the mood (moo-awd!) strikes her. When we meet her, she’s been shaving nymphomaniac Shelly’s head, but stops halfway to take a meeting. (Lucky for Shelly, she’s played by Chloe Sevigny, so the half-bald thing kind of works for her.)

Lana is more interested in the inmates than the cooking. Why was she giving Shelly a totally punk rock Chelsea, when that hairstyle wouldn’t be in vogue for 30 years?

Jude—whose own hair must be wound pretty tight behind that habit, since her skull looks like it is about to burst out of her face—curtly informs Lana that Shelly had been brought to the asylum after being diagnosed by a psychiatrist. "A psychiatrist," she spits, "who gave her a preposterous diagnosis comparing her to a wood nymph." (Get it??)

So, to sum up the scene: the woman running a mental asylum for the CRIMINALLY INSANE thinks that mental illness is just a new-fangled devil’s term for sin. She’s already giving Nurse Ratched a run for her money.

But Jude and her closet full of whips might not even be the worst of the asylum’s staff. The god-fearing woman is rightfully suspicious of the other "head" of Briarcliff, Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell, Babe and Babe II: Pig in the City). Boston’s answer to Joseph Mengele has been performing secret experiments on some of the patients, and has enlisted Sister Mary Eunice as his accomplice in getting rid of the evidence. Sister Jude thinks it’s fishy that Dr. Arden’s "patients" a) all seem to die right on his operating table and b) don’t have any surviving relatives to complain about it. Then they have a fight that goes something like this, where Sister Jude is like "Blah, blah, GOD!"

"Blah, blah, SCIENCE!" says Dr. Arden. "Also, look at this mutant flower I made…with SCIENCE!"

"Blah, blah, Jesus is watching, abomination, blah, blah, blah." Sister Jude takes her leave. She needs to make dinner for her secret crush, the hospital’s Monsignor, Timothy Howard. (Played by Joseph Fiennes, who finally found the role worth to follow up his portrayal of Shakespeare in 1998.) Sister Jude has a dirty little sex fantasy during the meal after the Monsignor says that her cooking belies a decadent streak. Also, she is wearing a sexy red slip under her cloister. What kind of nun is she?

Well, she had a rough day: It turns out Ms. Walker wasn’t interested in molasses bread at all! She used it as a cover for her real story, about BLOODY FACE, who was due to arrive at the hospital that very afternoon. As Sister Jude prissily marches Ms. Walker out of Briarcliff, the reporter locks eyes on the man who allegedly murdered and skinned three women. Hi, Kit!

Kit does not have a good first day in the asylum, because he is tied to a bed and forced to listen to a nun smugly taunt him about his crimes. Later, he meets a hot new friend named Grace, who sneaks him food and allegedly murdered her whole family. She’s got a cute French accent. The two are instant besties.

But even that fleeting pleasure is cut short. Dr. Arden wants Kit for a brain experiment! Which doesn’t seem smart, seeing as the kid is very high profile and about to go to trial, but whatever. I’m not the crazy doctor here, what do I know? Before Kit can get a fun icepick lobotomy, Arden notices a lump in his neck and decides to cut it out. You know, in case it’s treasure or something.

Unfortunately, it’s not treasure, or even candy. It’s a microchip. Of course, no one in 1964 knows what a microchip is, so the two men stare at the thing like it’s about to sprout legs and run away. Oh, wait, there it goes!

Blah, blah, science, indeed!

Nosy Lana wants to sneak back into the mental asylum and break the story about Sister Jude’s inhumane treatments wide open. Her lesbian girlfriend (see??) think that sounds like a great idea, probably because she just finished getting high. Off her marijuana cigarette. Lana finds Sister Mary Eunice scrambling back out of the woods after feeding those monstrosities Arden is taking care of. She blackmails the nun into sneaking her in the asylum through the death chute, whereupon she is immediately attacked by a monster hiding in a supposedly unoccupied room.

This is why you never take advice from your stoned girlfriend.

When Lana wakes up, she finds herself strapped to a bed in Briarcliff, with a nasty-looking Saw-device on her head. Sister Jude thinks Lana is too nosy, and pulled some strings to have her committed. Despite being mentioned in the episode, Sister Jude has apparently never heard of Nellie Bly.

Things look bleak for Lana, and even bleaker for Mrs. Tatum, whom the show cuts back to for the final sequence. Who is that in the chute? Why, it’s BLOODY FACE! Quick, get your husband, who is finding it "Harder to Breathe," and pull out A Guide to Recognizing Your Local Saints.

It looks like you’re going to need it.

Follow Drew Grant on Twitter.

‘Seminar’: A Hilarious, If Unsurprising, New Play

There’s a scene in Theresa Rebeck’s new play Seminar, in which Lily Rabe’s Kate, having just had the story she’s spent six years writing eviscerated by the mean-spirited Leonard (played by the sharp-tongued Alan Rickman), emerges on clutching a two-litre bottle of Diet Coke, a bag of chips, and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. "I’m depressed and I’m trying to make myself feel better. Is that all right with you?" she yells at Martin, an aspiring writer who is also paying Leonard $5,000 to critique his work. The moment gets a huge laugh. The scene, along with a third-act set change from a glorious Upper West Side apartment to a cluttered and dark downtown loft space, is one of the surprises in Seminar, a hilariously acted and handsome production of a conventional, unsurprising comedy. 

The image of an uptight, female Manhattanite reacting to the verbal destruction of her creative output’s limited worldview with junk food isn’t an especially shocking one, and it’s an example of several stock characteristics that fill up Seminar. Rabe and the rest of the cast handle these stereotypes gracefully, injecting their roles with a humanity that is surprising to find in a satire. Joining Rabe and Rickman are three accomplished actors making their Broadway debuts: Hamish Linklater as the awkward Martin, a Brooklyn literary type struggling with a fear of rejection; Jerry O’Connell as the pretentious Douglas, the nephew of a famous, unnamed author; and Hettienne Park as the sexy Izzy, who is the object of the three men’s amorous affections. 

Plenty of moments in Rebeck’s script touch on familiar themes of creative frustration and existentialism. The four young students in the seminar struggle with their own authenticity as Leonard, an accomplished novelist turned magazine writer who brags of his excursions in third-world countries, blasts them for not exploring topics outside of their own comfort zones. Martin, perhaps the most fully developed character, deals with his crippling fear of failure by keeping his work to himself and attacking Douglas for his pedestrian and showy approach to the craft. He’s an intellectual and literary idealist, and the establishment and utlimate collapse of rapport with Leonard allows Rebeck to take a subtle look at the larger career of a fiction writer. While Rickman and Rabe are the stars of the show, Linklater delivers a standout performance.

The major issue, of course, is that anyone who has been in a creative writing seminar will recognize that it’s not quite possible for a character to read handfuls of sentences and applaud an entire text as exquisite. Yet that happens several times in the play: Grand pronouncements of brilliance are delivered by characters who glanced at the material for just seconds. The stories are never read aloud for the audience’s benefit, so it’s difficult to see those moments as anything other than a flaw in the narrative. Having said that, Seminar is a satire, one that runs for less than two hours, and a couple of literary readings would definitely bring the production to a standstill. The play already suffers from an uneven momentum, with the first half’s speedy dialogue a misleading introduction to the second half’s slow, somewhat serious tone. 

Despite the script’s flaws, Seminar makes for a compelling and hilarious night of theater thanks to the ensemble’s performances and Sam Gold’s near-perfect direction. Rebeck succeeds at crafting smart and snappy dialogue, peppered with enough middle-brow cultural references to make even your average TKTS receipt-carrying philistine feel like an academic by the show’s end.