June 23, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “American Gothic”


AMERICAN GOTHIC:  Wednesday 10PM on CBS – Change the Channel

Since even ABC is having trouble these days with its trademark soaps about melodrama, dark reveals and violence among close relations (The Family, Blood & Oil, the exhausted cancellation of Revenge), it’s not much of a surprise that CBS is completely out of its depth trying to pull one off with summer series AMERICAN GOTHIC.  Series creator Corinne Brinkerhoff hails from The Good Wife‘s writing/producing staff, but none of that show’s narrative finesse is visible in Gothic‘s pilot, which is a fumble on every level.

The setting is Boston–or rather the bland simulation of Boston shot in a tax rebate haven–and the family at issue is the Hawthornes, which made its Jackson Pollock-original money from the concrete biz.  Dad (Jamey Sheridan) doesn’t survive the pilot, thanks to a heart attack and a helpful push from Mom Madeleine (Virginia Madsen), but before he perishes, a mysterious box is found in the shed that contains apparently damning evidence linking him or at least someone in the clan to the notorious serial killer known as the Silver Bell Killer (because he or she left such a bell beside every corpse).  The Hawthorne progeny, mayoral candidate and apparent closeted lesbian Alison (Juliet Rylance), nice-girl public school teacher Tessa (Megan Ketch), cartoonist and recovering addict Cam (Justin Chatwin), and long-lost black sheep Garrett (Antony Starr, until recently the faux-sheriff on Banshee) need to figure out what’s up, and also whether one of them is the killer.

Some of this is standard soap silliness (Tessa’s husband is the homicide detective assigned to the reopened Silver Bell Killer case, and Garrett does nothing but scowl at everyone), while Brinkerhoff also occasionally tries for touches of black comedy, mostly through Cam’s son, who’s obsessed with violent death.  (Whether the very idea of a killer leaving silver bells as his/her calling card is meant to be part of the comedy is unclear.)  All of it is dull.  The opening hour is shoddy both in its look, which in the hands of pilot director Matt Shakman is unmistakably that of a low-budget production trying to look affluent, and in its purely functional dialogue.  There’s no suspense, and not even much curiosity about who the Silver Bell Killer will turn out to be, a revelation that will presumably follow 13 weeks of systematic misleads and red herrings.

Although there are talented actors here–the cast also includes Stephanie Leonidas, a Syfy bright spot as Defiance‘s adopted alien, as Cam’s nothing-but-trouble ex–no one makes an impression, and Starr’s machismo, a key to Banshee‘s success, feels like an affectation in this context.  Brinkerhoff doesn’t suggest any depth to her characters, and the result plays like a genre exercise.  Tonight’s premiere will benefit in the ratings from a Big Brother season premiere lead-in, but things will get tougher after that, with Criminal Minds reruns in the 9PM hour.  Even in summer, it’s hard to see why viewers with an endless number of choices at their command would opt to spend their time with the warmed-over poison tea of American Gothic.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."