American Gothic CoverBUY IT AT AMAZON: CLICK HERE!
STUDIO: Universal
MSRP: $49.98
RUNNING TIME: 1002 Minutes
Commentary on “Pilot” by creator Shaun Cassidy and David Eick
Deleted and extended scenes

After the surprise success of The X-Files, television networks were eager to hop aboard the genre television bandwagon. They didn’t care about the shows at all; they were just after that sweet advertising revenue. This type of attitude resulted in shows like American Gothic, which were rife with potential but sabotaged by the network at every turn.

American Gothic slowly built up the relationships between its characters and made their motivations more believable, so the network naturally aired the series out of order so the character motivations made absolutely no sense. The show featured characters that didn’t fit typical molds, so the network demanded certain characters be written out of the show and replaced by two-dimensional clichés. Once their manipulations had sabotaged the slim chance the show had of succeeding, they then pulled the plug on it.

Ten years after the show’s debut, the series has been released on DVD. The show’s theme regarding the sins of the father feels appropriate considering the incompetence of the networks has been passed on to a new generation by this completely mishandled set.

The Ultimate Warrior disciplines his children.

The Show

Trinity is a small backwoods town in South Carolina. There’s a real sense of community about the place and everyone is willing to help each other out. Order is kept by Sheriff Lucas Buck, whose methods may go against everything that’s decent and moral in the world but get the job done. No one’s complaining about Buck’s work, but that’s mostly because anyone who complains usually ends up on the receiving end of a fatal “accident.”

Lucas Buck is no normal sheriff. Besides possessing no conscience or morals whatsoever, he also seems to have supernatural powers at times. He appears and vanishes at will, keeping his eyes on everything going on in his jurisdiction. Want to trade your soul for career success? Sheriff Buck can help. Want to get rid of your nagging wife? Sheriff Buck can help with that too. He enjoys toying with the citizens of Trinity and has effectively established himself as the sole ruler of the town.

However, controlling Trinity isn’t enough for Sheriff Buck. What he really wants is custody of a young boy named Caleb Temple. Ten years ago Sheriff Buck raped Caleb’s mother, murdering her after she gave birth to Caleb. Of course, Buck covered his tracks well. No one else was the wiser as to the true identify of Caleb’s father and the circumstances surrounding his mother’s death. Buck has kept silent watch over Caleb for the past decade, but on the boy’s tenth birthday he decides it’s time he claim what’s his.

Murdering both Caleb’s father and his sister Merlyn, Buck sets himself up in prime position to take custody of Caleb and raise him in his own image. Unfortunately for him, his plan is ruined when Caleb’s long lost cousin Gail Emory returns to town and fights for custody. The dispute is eventually decided by a judge, who rules that Caleb will live in the local boarding house on a temporary basis. With Caleb living in neutral territory, Sheriff Buck is forced to use more subtle means to try and seduce Caleb to the darker side. Merlyn returns as a ghost that only Caleb can see to try and counteract the influence of Buck and steer Caleb towards the light.

Over the course of 22 episodes Caleb is pushed and pulled in two directions. On the surface the conflict might appear simpler than it really is. One would assume that Caleb would naturally recognize Sheriff Buck as being evil and not listening to a word he says, but the show gives Caleb a reason to listen. Despite the fact that he may be evil, Buck is still Caleb’s father and that’s something he’s never really had. Buck may torture the citizens of Trinity, but he shows nothing but love and affection towards Caleb. It’s important that Buck have some redeeming qualities of his own for the conflict to really work. He may be trying to manipulate Caleb and push him in a certain direction, but Merlyn is doing the same thing. Caleb could switch to either side at any time and that’s what makes the conflict compelling.

The blindfold can’t fool me! I can tell by the scent that you’re international superstar Ted Raimi!

The slow burn of the characters is one of the most important features of the show. These characters are anything but static. By the end of the series, some characters barely resemble who they were in the pilot. The important part of this character development is that it’s handled with care and every motivation makes sense if the episodes are viewed in the proper order.

It takes talented actors to pull off such character transformations and American Gothic is fortune to have a group of actors who can pull it off. The entire program rests primarily on Gary Cole’s shoulders and runs with it. Everyone in Trinity has every right to completely hate Lucas Buck, but for some reason they just can’t resist being charmed by him. Cole makes this attitude work by switching from the most charismatic southern gentleman in the world to a vindictive evil force at the drop of a hat. He’ll ruin your life one minute and then have you eating out of the palm of his hand in the next.

The supporting cast is strong as well. For a child actor in such a prominent role, Lucas Black handles the job well. The worst that can be said of him is that his accent comes and goes, but several of the actors fall victim to that. Jake Weber plays Dr. Matt Crower, who is Sheriff Buck’s chief nemesis. Weber portrays the character as much more complex than a simple foil to Buck’s evil ways and makes the doctor more of a detached and troubled individual than one would expect. The networks certainly didn’t expect it and replaced Weber with a more two-dimensional heartthrob doctor mid-season.

The show does everything right to create a darker tone and a sense of dread, but often pushes a little too far. This extra push ends up making scenes that could have been disturbing just plain comical. The show makes frequent use of abrupt zooms and jump cuts with zany sound effects. It might get the same reaction that yelling “Boo!” at someone gets, but the show doesn’t need that. Special effects are used when they’re hardly necessary and are very jarring by today’s standards. A plastic skull rotating 360 degrees doesn’t add to the mood, it completely destroys it. These effects should have been relegated to other Raimi produced shows like Hercules and Xena. They’re just not appropriate in American Gothic.

American Gothic’s ongoing story arc would presumably have followed Caleb through his adolescence and make the fight for his soul a long and arduous one. That arc didn’t get a chance to fulfill its potential since the show was cancelled after one season. The writers knew that their chances of renewal were slim to none and tried their best to give some sort of closure in the final episode. Even so, the end of the series is completely unsatisfying and dampens what would be a strong television series otherwise. The writers can’t really be blamed for the sour ending though, since they would probably still be writing the show if the decision was up to them. American Gothic is compelling genre television that had a chance to become even better if it had been given a chance to flourish.

8.0 out of 10

Told you not to drink my Viper!

The Look

American Gothic is presented in its original full frame 1.33:1 aspect ratio. There’s a fair amount grain throughout the episodes that can become distracting at points. The show is spread out on three DVD-18s, which seem to cause a lot of errors on certain DVD players. Certain episodes cause glitches in the playback where the episode will freeze for a small time and then resume. The effect is similar to a layer change and isn’t major but still presents an annoyance that could have been avoided if a different media format had been used.

6.0 out of 10

Better paper bag this one.

The Noise

The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround. The track makes the “Boo” moments of the show with loud noises even more jarring and mood shattering than they were by themselves. The dialogue is crisp and easy to hear. English and Spanish subtitles are included for each episode.

7.0 out of 10

The new ten dollar bill uses authentic Alexander Hamilton blood to prevent counterfeiting.

The Goodies

There’s one goodie that would have been appreciated by new-comers to the show that Universal neglected to include: the episodes in the proper order. Universal has put the episodes in the same mixed up order that they were broadcast in. The reason for this is apparent but that doesn’t make it any less moronic. In its original broadcast run, four episodes of the show were never broadcast. The set includes these four episodes, but instead of taking the time to insert them in the proper order, they were slapped onto the last disc. This means that if you watch the series in the order the DVDs suggest, character motivations will make absolutely no sense and the lost episodes will actually take place after the series finale. This set forces consumers to use an episode guide to watch the show in a logical fashion and switch DVDs multiple times.

The extras include commentary on the pilot episode and several deleted and extended scenes. The commentary participants are show creator Shaun Cassidy and producer David Eick. The commentary was recorded recently and the two spend some time discussing their current projects and what the actors from the show have gone on to do. They have a lot of fun working together on projects and it comes through in the commentary. Some of the more interesting subjects covered are the network’s reactions to the pilot and how they tried to make the look of the show different than standard television horror shows. Commentaries on other episodes would have been appreciated, especially the series finale.

The deleted and extended scenes are very short and of varying quality. Most are simply extra lines of dialogue in existing scenes. The deleted scenes often show events that while not redundant, weren’t really needed to explain what happened. The scenes are grouped with the episodes they came from and can be easy to overlook in the extras menu. This is the only DVD release this show will see, which makes the lack of other special features disappointing.

4.0 out of 10

Should have used a BIC for better stabbing action.

The Artwork

For a show that tried to steer away from genre clichés, the artwork for the set seems to revel in them. Angel statues and spooky woods dominate the cover with a boring promotional photo thrown in almost as an afterthought. The three flipper discs are inside three slim cases that feature similarly boring artwork. The back of the cases feature more promotional photos and the mixed-up episode listings with misleading episode descriptions to boot.

4.0 out of 10

Overall: 7.5 out of 10