Turn Back The Clock
American Gothic: The Series
Distributed By: Universal Studios
Reviewed by Justine Manzano
Have you ever watched something and remembered it being so good that, years later, you felt compelled to track it down only to find out that it was not quite as good as you remembered? Well, when the supernatural television series, American Gothic, aired on television in 1995, it was one of my favorite shows. By the time I had watched the DVDs that were released early this year, I was less sure. It wasn’t bad, but it had many more flaws than I had remembered. Come, explore with me!
American Gothic is about the small, southern town of Trinity. Trinity is guided by Sheriff Lucas Buck (played by the brilliant Gary Cole, Wanted, Office Space) who rules it with a suspiciously iron fist. The series is launched with the plight of a small boy, Caleb Temple (Lucas Black, now all grown up and starring in The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift), who lives with his abusive father and his sister, Merlyn (Sarah Paulson, Serenity, the new fall series Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip), who has been locked in a catatonic state since she was young. During a particularly bad incident with his father, Caleb is forced to run away and though he tries to take his sister with him, he is unsuccessful. When Sheriff Buck finds his way to the scene, he strangely kills Merlyn and then arrests her father for the crime!
Immediately upon finding him, Sheriff Buck insists on taking Caleb in, but Caleb’s only known living relative, his cousin, Gail Emory (Paige Turco) and the town doctor, Matt (Jake Weber, Medium) are suspicious of the Sheriff and want Caleb to have nothing to do with him. And when Merlyn’s ghost comes for a visit, she unlocks the secret of Caleb’s connection with Lucas as well as renews the battle between good and evil. Every one in town comes into the battle at one point or another and many questions are raised. Is Lucas evil, or is he the closest thing to The Devil himself to walk the earth? Can Caleb retain his goodness despite his connection to Lucas? And how can Gail and Matt escape the seemingly inescapable wrath of Sheriff Buck? All these questions and more are answered in this collection of 22 episodes of the series on DVD.
There were many great things about this series. The story is intriguing and it was one of the very few genre television shows on mainstream television at the time (which was, of course, why it didn’t last very long). You find yourself screaming at the screen as you watch, furious as the characters are moved closer and closer to evil. The actors did well aside from some less than bright moments from Black, but he was just a child, so I’ll forgive him. Gary Cole steals the series away as Lucas Buck, who is just as vicious as he is glib and silly. He plays a very fun character which was pretty clearly the reason why I had loved this show so much.
Unfortunately, there were bad points in this series too. Most of these can be attributed to the fact that the series is old. The special effects can be mighty cheesy and the strange cuts used by many of the directors, which intercut ominous shots of lighting or crows flying by or anything evil they could squeeze in between scenes, is very distracting. But, far worse than this is the very thing that ran this show into the ground. Much like The Fox Network did with Firefly, CBS ran the episodes of the series completely out of order, skipping some episodes entirely, and thus dooming it to an early death. We’re not talking just a little out of order—we’re talking about the kind in which you’re struggling to understand when Gail fell in love with Lucas, and how a character had been jailed at the end of one episode, was walking around freely the next, and was completely gone from the series the next. The worse thing about these glaring mistakes is that the DVD boxed set chose to overlook them, and merely packaged the series exactly how it had aired, with the unaired episodes at the end, after what was very obviously a series finale.
All in all, the series is a fun bit of TV history with an interesting premise that is bound to be a lot of fun. On the other hand, the DVD isn’t worth much. There are very few bonus features that seem to be worth anything and the DVD’s do not show the true order of episodes. In short, if you love shows that remind of us Twin Peaks and the whole, angel and devil on your shoulder scenario, you should definitely watch this show. If you have it saved up already on VHS, there is no need to buy the DVD—it won’t give you much more than what you’ve already got.