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

american gothic review

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.

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