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American Gothic or Nah?

Or Nah? is a feature where we watch and review the first episode of a new TV show. We’ll let you know if it’s worth checking out. As always, these reviews are the opinion of the reviewer, but we’ll try to adequately explain why you should or shouldn’t give the show a chance and provide shows for comparison.

American Gothic | “Arrangement in Grey and Black” | Starring: Justin Chatwin, Megin Ketch, Anthony Starr, Virginia Madsen, Juliet Rylance, Eliot Knight, Stephanie Leonidas, Gabriel Bateman | Created by: Corinne Brinkerhoff | Network: CBS | Airing: Wednesdays from June 22 - 13 episode first season.

Images: CBS

Images: CBS

What’s It About?

A wealthy and powerful Boston family, complete with obligatory black sheep and addict, discover via an unfortunate tunnel collapse in the city that they might have The Silver Bells killer in their midst. It’s been 14 years since he or she last struck, and the case has remained cold since then. But when a belt belonging to the last victim turns up among the rubble, it’s game on for Boston’s Finest. But who is the killer, and how are the Hawthorne family connected?

Alison Hawthorne-Price (Juliet Rylance, The Knick) is running for mayor and sees the reopening of the investigation as a stepping stone for her campaign. Cam Hawthorne (Justin Chatwin, Shameless, Orphan Black) is a cartoonist and ex-drug addict whose hold on sobriety is tenuous at best. His soon-to-be ex-wife, Sophie (Stephanie Leonidas, Defiance), is openly using and wants her husband and son back. Speaking of their son, Jack (Gabriel Bateman, Outcast – another creepy kid role) has a morbid interest in the macabre and thinks nothing of experimenting on a neighbor’s missing dog.

Tessa Ross (Megan Ketch, Jane the Virgin) just wants to play happy family, using her Ovulation App to cajole her newly-minted detective husband, Brady (Elliot Knight, Sinbad) into conceiving a child in her parent’s elaborate mansion. It is she and Cam who discover evidence that one of their own might be implicated in the murders. This is convenient, because back after a 14-year absence from family duties is Garret Hawthorne (Anthony Starr, Banshee). He returns because the family patriarch, Mitchell (Jamey Sheridan, Homeland, Arrow), is laid up after a serious heart attack which befalls him at Alison’s press conference. Garret’s return only serves to worsen his condition. Madeline Hawthorne (Virginia Madsen, Witches of East End, Hell on Wheels, Dune) is wife, mother, and after this episode perhaps the leading suspect.

What’s Good?

It certainly looks pretty, and the opening sequence with the tunnel collapse is tense – although the bit of dialogue that featured the words “Ovulation App” straight after was tonally jarring. The cast we’ve all seen before and it’s no denying they’re a talented bunch of performers. The mystery itself is intriguing, and I’m sure further episodes will throw up more than their fair share of red herrings.

What’s Bad?

Unfortunately, quite a bit. I know it’s only the show’s pilot and there should be ample time to buff up the characters from hereon in, but for me, the actors are horribly wasted. I signed up to review this episode as soon as I knew Anthony Starr was involved. Banshee is one of my favorite shows ever. But it looks as if Lucas Hood took a wrong turn when leaving town, forged another identity for himself, and forgot to add complexity and charisma. If I see another scene where a guy shaves himself with a hunting knife, I swear I’ll go back drinking. Jamey Sheridan gets the best deal. He stands up, falls, and then dies later in the episode. He has his agent to thank for that.

The Verdict

American Gothic is nothing that we haven’t seen before. In its initial attempt to show the dark side of family life, resplendent with a closet that positively rattles with skeletons, it’s nowhere near gothic enough. None of these characters make me want to come back next week. Creator Corinne Brinkerhoff is unlikely to repeat the success of The Good Wife here.

If shows like Revenge are your thing, by all means load up; but it doesn’t ring any bells for me. And I’m profoundly sorry to have to say this.

American Gothic premiere = 6.3/10
  • 7/10
    Plot - 7/10
  • 6/10
    Dialogue - 6/10
  • 6/10
    Performances - 6/10
User Review
5 (1 vote)
About James McShane (97 Articles)
James McShane is Irish, and damn proud of it. A recovering caffeine addict, he lives a full life, devoted to his books, friends, family, and Doctor Who calendar collection. His interests include reading three books at once, stalking his favourite people on Facebook, and going for long walks at four in the morning. Insomnia is a bitch. He hopes to be a published author one day, so he should really get around to finishing that damn novel of his.
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