American Gothic (CBS) pilot preview: Brothers & Sisters & Murders

"Middle Of Nowhere" - Portrait Session - TIFF 2008

Created by Corinne Brinkerhoff (The Good Wife, Jane The Virgin, Elementary, Boston Justice). Produced by James Frey (I Am Number Four), Justin Falvey & Darryl Frank (Under The Dome, Extant, The Whispers, Falling Skies, Terra Nova). For CBS, CBS Television Studios & Amblin Television. 62 pages.

Description: The Hawthornes, a prominent Boston family, are attempting to redefine themselves in the wake of a chilling discovery that links their recently deceased patriarch to a string of murders spanning decades, amid the mounting suspicions that one of them may have been his accomplice…

With Justin Chatwin (Shameless US, Dragonball Evolution, War of the Worlds), Megan Ketch (Blue Bloods, The Good Wife, Under The Dome), Antony Starr (Banshee)…


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It has now become some sort of tradition: every year, CBS picks-up genre series with promising premises for a summer run, they assemble an OK cast with good looking leads, they promote them heavily at the end of the season making us excited for it and we end up with boring, dumb, tedious products that quickly become dreadful to watch until noboby cares anymore and it gets cancelled with no proper send off. That’s what happened with Under The Dome, Extant, Zoo -which will be cancelled next summer, no doubt- and soon enough, we’ll probably add American Gothic to the list. Knowing all that, I read the pilot script with great suspicion and it may have altered my judgement for a while but my eyes rolled way too many times to ignore it. And trust me: I’m a sucker for family dramas, especially if a murder is involved. But it’s a no, disguised as a “yes, we’ll see”, cos’ I’m still cautiously optimistic about that one. It could be a decent guilty pleasure, as long as the mystery is solved at the end of the season and it becomes an anthology if it’s renewed.

Like in the other CBS summer series Braindead (Read the preview here), there’s a political context to the story, since one of the character, Alison, is running to become Boston’s new mayor. But unlike Braindead, it is not properly taken care of. It’s a parody of an election, with a cliché campaign manager, Renee, and very tired low blows from the opponent, mostly based on rumors. We have seen too many great political shows or plots recently (House of Cards, Boss, Borgen, The Good Wife) to be satisfied by such a ridiculous attempt at it. Even Scandal is smarter than that. Of course, it’s not all there is but it’s not like it’s a good thriller either…

I’m not sure why it’s even called American Gothic. It’s not scary and it doesn’t even try to be. There’s a malediction that seems to be running in the family: every generation has their own serial killer. There’s the patriarch, it’s the discovery of the pilot. Then there may be one of his kid, the black sheep, who seems to have helped him. But there is no proof yet of his guilt. I guess we’ll discover later he is not involved at all but one of his sister or brother is. Or they are all serial killers and it’s the worst show ever. That’s a real possibility. And finally there’s a young child, a very strange boy who happens to cut the neighbor’s cat’s tail during the pilot. Yes. No subtlety AT ALL. He’s gonna be a killer because he is cruel to animals. Period. We can also imagine Tessa, our main character, will discover later that some of their ancestors had a lot of blood on their hands and it’s all because of them. Honestly, I’m not quite sure what this show is about and what will happen next. I’m definitely curious about it, though.

At its core, American Gothic is a family drama. But the family dynamic is not engaging at all. None of them seem to be close or even caring about each others. It’s not Brothers & Sisters with serial killers: they are not even funny in their mediocrity. It’s not Netflix’s Bloodline, though it’s impossible not to think about it if you’ve seen it. I think it’s simply a poorly written soap with dull characters, which wants to give us the creeps but only manages to keep us entertained. But for how long? They can only do two things now to make it better: strenghten up the characters by focusing on who they really are and what they mean to each other; and surprising us as much as they can by choosing not to go where we think they’re going. Taking the How to get away with murder route, in fact. And as a bonus: hiring a director that can set up a scary atmosphere that is totally absent from the script.

American Gothic has zero chance to become a hit and every chance to be forgotten quickly. But it’s so bad it could be good! Prepare yourself for the possible perfect hate-watching guilty-pleasure of summer 2016!



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