AMERICAN GOTHIC, SERIES PREMIERE PLOT SUMMARY:
Following new evidence in an unsolved murder case, the Hawthornes begin to suspect that someone in the family might be the illusive Silver Bells Killer. To make matters worse, this comes during Alison’s (Juliet Rylance) mayoral campaign
CBS definitely plays things safe compared to other networks when it comes to programming. Typically, its shows fall into a few categories. These categories are reality shows, like Survivor, multi-camera sitcoms, like The Big Bang Theory, and procedurals, like NCIS. Notice something? These are all long-running series. There are some exceptions, but those exceptions don’t stray that far from the norm. It seems CBS has found a winning format, making it “America’s most watched network,” according to CBS.
Over the past several years, CBS has been trying its hand at a fourth, more volatile category: the summer event (which may or may not start as a miniseries). American Gothic, coupled with the second season of James Patterson’s Zoo, is this year’s event. However, this is not the first time CBS has done a murder mystery like this. Back in 2009, CBS aired a similar show called Harper’s Island, which I didn’t watch but I do remember. Given how much viewership fell for that show during its run, you have to wonder why CBS is giving American Gothic a chance, and with the same number of episodes. This is the age of Netflix. Do people really have the patience anymore? And to top it all off, CBS is kind of doing the same thing with BrainDead.
Having said all that, is American Gothic worth the time you could otherwise spend getting instant gratification through binging? Well, the series presents itself as a carefully constructed story with plenty of twists and turns. It posits one family member as the potential killer, but as the episode goes on, it’s likely that more than one of them has something to hide. For instance, what’s the deal with Garrett (Antony Starr), who returns home from self-exile? As mentioned in the show, he certainly fits the bill for killer, given that he shaves with a hunting knife and is just all-around creepy guy. Then there’s the kid, Jack (Gabriel Bateman). He’s obviously too young to have committed the murders from 14 years ago, but he has a morbid fascination with biology, even cutting off a cat’s tail in the premiere. Cruelty to animals can be a sign of psychopathic tendencies.
Perhaps the only glaring problem with this show is its reliance on the usual mystery tropes. As I addressed in my review of Secrets & Lies (an ABC murder mystery), these sorts of stories tend to feature a bunch of characters with skeletons in their closets. I described it as an adult Scooby-Doo. But, unfortunately, these skeletons are often pointless or padding. The earlier you have a reason to suspect a character, the sooner you can discount that person’s guilt. Plus, the more disconnected secrets are from the overall narrative, the worse they are. But to call American Gothic just another Secrets & Lies would be disingenuous, since American Gothic also includes a bit of dark comedy based on the paranoia that one of the Hawthornes may be a murderer. This works well, in general, and helps give the series its own identity. And even though American Gothic is no doubt going the Scooby-Doo route to some degree, the end of the premiere already incriminates one family member in a serious crime related to the Silver Bells Killer. If the show can keep throwing surprises like this out there, it could transcend its formulaic set-up.
So should you give American Gothic a shot? If you have nothing else to do, I say watch the first episode and consider what I’ve said in this review. However, to be completely transparent, I just don’t think I personally have the time to spare.
RATING: 7 OUT OF 10 (GOOD)
AMERICAN GOTHIC AIRS WEDNESDAYS AT 10 PM ON CBS
Aaron Sarnecky is Pop-Break’s television editor and covers Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., among other things. He is a graduate of Rowan University with a degree in television and film. He probably remembers that show you forgot existed. Follow him on Twitter: @AaronSarnecky