From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Sofa Sunday: American Gothic

American Gothic was one of those Brilliant, But Canceled shows that, had it aired during the days of digital downloads and DVRs, might have stood a chance at lasting longer than a season. The show was dark but not morose, supernatural but not woowoo, and starred some stellar actors, including Gary Cole. Yes, the Office Space boss. Gary has a really wide acting range, if you didn’t know, and as the somewhat demonic Sheriff Buck he’s damn sexy.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

American Gothic’s protagonist is 10-year-old Caleb Temple (Lucas Black), who resides in the fiction small town of Trinity, South Carolina. The story begins when Caleb’s life becomes a complete mess — his sister is murdered, his father is accused of said murder, then commits suicide, and the local sheriff has taken an unnatural interest in him. As the story progresses, we learn that Sheriff Buck (Gary Cole) has a deep connection to Caleb, that he’s capable of making bad and good things (of a supernatural nature) happen to the people in town, and he’s pretty damn ruthless. On the “good” side are Caleb’s distant cousin, a reporter from “the city”, a new doctor, also from some city (in the north), and his dead sister, now an angel watching over him.

American Gothic balanced the darker aspects of its storylines with a little humor and mundane, but powerful, scenes that dealt with the hardships of being 10, small town life, and growing up. None of these elements came off as sappy, which is why the show worked.

Caleb is the show’s heart, but Sheriff Buck is its center. His charm and menace are in perfect balance. He’s shown to be cruel and evil, but, in one of my favorite episodes, also shown to be necessary. “Strong Arm Of The Law” illustrates what could happen to Trinity if Buck wasn’t there to “protect” its citizens. It also raises some interesting thoughts about the concept of a necessary evil.

The real shocker about this show is that the executive producers are famous, but not necessarily for great television: Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert. Though not all of their efforts were as cringe-worthy as Cleopatra 2525, Jack of All Trades, or Hercules. Xena was pretty awesome, and you can’t hate two guys who recognize that Bruce Campbell is one of the best actors in the known universe. And yes, they threw some work his way for this show. Not a comedic role, but one that allowed him to have a bit of fun. Episode 7, “Meet The Beetles”:

It’s a shame that this show didn’t last longer.

Still, the first season was very well done and ended in such a way that it didn’t feel completely unresolved. The last episode is pretty amazing, and particularly highlighted the acting range of Lucas Black (Caleb) as he becomes more and more like his father.

Hulu.com has every American Gothic episode, including four that were never aired, and I highly suggest you take advantage and watch while you can.


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