american gothic review

American Gothic Review: CBS' Killer Drama Brings Cheap Chills to Summer

grade_BWe need to talk about the Hawthornes.

At first glance, the wealthy Boston family at the heart of CBS’ new summer drama American Gothic (premiering Wednesday, June 22 at 10/9c) might look like they just stepped out of a page from Who’s Who in the Patrician Beantown Suburbs, but you don’t have to get past the marble foyer to see their Jackson Pollock original isn’t the only thing in the house that’s a little spotty.

Right from the opening scene, as eldest daughter Alison preps her family for a media meet-and-greet to boost her Boston mayoral campaign, there’s a tension in the air that suggests everybody’s got something on his or her résumé that might make for an embarrassing headline (except, perhaps, youngest daughter Tess, played with chipper specificity by Jane the Virgin vet Megan Ketch).

107972_D8_0200bSure enough, the other shoe drops in the form of a section of concrete roofing from a roadway tunnel — one that contains a belt with a fingerprint that traces back to a victim of the Silver Bells Killer, a notorious serial murderer who targeted rich and powerful businesspeople from 1999-2002, then “retired” without ever being caught. Without giving too much away, over the course of the show’s first two episodes, we see clues that paint at least three, maybe four, of the Hawthornes as potential suspects, a fact that’s made even more complicated by the fact that Tess is married to Boston detective Brady (Once Upon a Time‘s Elliot Knight).

As you may have gleamed from its premise, no one will accuse American Gothic of being thrillingly original, nor is it brilliantly executed — as Alison, The Knick‘s Juliet Rylance struggles to mask her British accent, while Banshee‘s Antony Starr portrays prodigal son Garrett as if he’s taken a frying pan to the head seconds before every scene he’s in. (Oh, let us be mercifully silent about whatever is happening atop the noggin of Shameless‘ Justin Chatwin. Stylists, tame that mop, please!)

Still, there are enough nasty twists in the narrative — one involving a missing cat named Caramel — that make it impossible for me to lie and say I haven’t already set my DVR with a series recording. American Gothic (no relation to the acclaimed, one-seaon Gary Cole vehicle from 1995) fits nicely into the summer-schlock, easy-on-the-brain template of CBS summer fare like Harper’s Island and Zoo.

American Gothic Virginia MadsenDid I mention Oscar nominee Virginia Madsen classes up the joint as Hawthorne matriarch Maddie, a woman whose lies drip as casually as water from a mid-April icicle? Or that the roles of the Hawthonre grandchildren are so bizarrely/amusingly written and performed that they occasionally add a bracing tang of parody to the proceedings? (Just wait for the unforgettable doozy of a funeral scene in Episode 2!)

All this is to say that while you shouldn’t look for American Gothic to enter the Emmy conversation in the history of ever, that’s simply not the point of it. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a weird, sometimes eerie distraction that won’t require rewinding if a few lines of dialogue get downed out by the air conditioner, CBS’ newest offering might be a summer series that slays.

The TVLine Bottom Line: No worries if you skip American Gothic. But like that forgotten box in your storage closet, once you pop it open, the contents may prove inexplicably engrossing, whether or not they’re all that valuable.

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. MissEllys says:

    A C grade, now a B grade for CBS’s summer stuff, I have a hunch you guys will give Zoo’s season 2 premiere an A grade.

  2. Ginette says:

    American Gothic…will it be anything like the American Gothic that aired before…(with Lucas Black playing young Caleb ???)

  3. Kate says:

    I might give it a shot, hell, I’m giving a litany of new shows a shot this summer because the stuff I really want to watch comes trickling out at the end of June. Heck, I even sighed during the Americans the other night, with an oh, right, the Strain. This has the highest chance of getting a series recording for this very lazy reason, while I am not positive, I think Wednesday night’s edition of Big Brother is on at 9. That sometimes is the best and oddest episode to watch, while they hold off editing as long as they can, that’s where more of the story is and sometimes you watch it and just know the producers are shaking their heads because we all know something dramatic happened between the end of the veto ceremony (which happens IRL on Monday at like noon time BBT) and its sometimes that which causes more of the drama. Or the fact that they have nothing to do between the end of that and Thursday at 5. Or, like excellently in Season 14, a houseguest decides to, well, basically become Littlefinger and cause chaos which ends up saving him.

  4. Maree says:

    They should have renewed Stalker! That was an interesting series. Loved watching DM every week. Liked his character. Jack.

  5. librariall says:

    what a horrible show! Animal abuse, child abuse by another child. Really?! Just can’t figure out what’s wrong with society, duh…

  6. Redcatlady says:

    How much do we really know about dear Madelaine? About her family, specifically — not the one she’s so anxious to protect now, but the one that originally spawned her? Last night’s episode revealed her familiarity with the lethal usage of a leather belt, and her all-too-willingness to assist her husband in the important decision he had to make all those years ago. Just wondering.