Emma Roberts in “American Horror Story: Delicate,” the 12th edition of the franchise.
“Restraint” is a seldom-used word in connection with “American Horror Story,” where the emphasis often tilts more toward gory images and sadism than genuine scares. Yet working from a novel with a different writer appears to have imposed some welcome discipline on the 12th edition of the FX series, “Delicate,” which owes a tonal debt to “Rosemary’s Baby.”
Producer Ryan Murphy again draws from his “AHS” repertory company, in this case creating a showcase for Emma Roberts as Anna Alcott, a rising movie star whose infertility issues lead her to label herself “broken,” a reference her husband, Dex (Matt Czuchry), quickly corrects.
Still, strange things begin to happen when Anna gets the chance for another IVF treatment, despite the assurances of her doctor, played by Denis O’Hare, that she has a very good chance at success this time. (Given O’Hare’s association with the “Horror Story” franchise, anyone seeing him as a doctor should really seek out a second opinion.)
Adapting the book “Delicate Condition,” writer-producer Halley Feiffer actually lets the situations breathe a bit – again, not a customary “American Horror Story” hallmark. That includes a hint of mystery surrounding Dex, whose first wife died, as well as at least one shadowy woman who appears to be stalking Anna.
Kim Kardashian in “American Horror Story: Delicate.”
Murphy’s touch actually proves most evident in the attention-grabbing casting of Kim Kardashian as Anna’s publicist and friend, reflecting the producer’s penchant for placing promotional value over performance. Although she hosted “Saturday Night Live” and has a few acting credits, it’s definitely a step up for the reality star, who delivers credibly enough given the limited demands in the opening hour, perhaps in part because her character is operating in a world she knows quite well.
After witches, freak shows and haunted houses, “American Horror Story” gets down to basics by finding horror in a more conventional environment with a protagonist at a vulnerable moment, never mind that Anna leads the kind of fabulous life where she has to plan medical visits around an appearance on Andy Cohen’s talk show, and begins discussing expensive private schools before she’s formally pregnant.
Frankly, keeping track of the various incarnations of this series has at times felt like its own kind of ordeal, requiring attention (from critics, anyway) because of its inexplicable popularity despite being as subtle as a blow to the head with a bag of hammers.
“Delicate” might not fully alter that dynamic, but the eerie qualities of the premiere at least establish it as the kind of introduction that spurs curiosity, as Cohen might put it, to watch what happens next.