Friday, 21 August 2009

American Gothic (TV)

American Gothic aired for one season in 1995-96. Oddly, I heard it described as a horror-satire series, however, I completely failed to find anything satirical in the show.

Lucas Buck is the Sheriff of Trinity, South Carolina. Possessed with dark powers, Lucas makes sure things run smoothly and according to his wishes. Lucas is the father of Caleb Temple, a boy conceived through rape. Caleb's mother killed herself the day after she gave birth, and Caleb's been living on the edge of town with his developmentally challenged sister, Merlyn, and their alcoholic father. One day Lucas comes calling and the visit ends with Caleb being orphaned. Lucas is set to take the boy home when Caleb's cousin, Gale, arrives in town. Caleb moves into a boarding house and tries to live a normal life as Lucas, Gale, and the ghost of Merlyn all vie for his loyalty and his soul.

American Gothic was one of the darker shows on television at the time, but its episodic nature hurt its chances to become one of the better shows playing on TV. In spite of the fact that other shows airing at the time managed to weave B and C story arcs into each or every other episode, the war being waged between Lucas and Merlyn was constantly stalling out. And a mid-season replacement of the benevolent Dr. Matt with the disinterested Dr. Billy really hurt the plot of the show.

An equally poor story twist was Gail sacrificing her self-respect to be with Lucas. Indeed, Lucas spends a lot of time courting Gail, and the sexual tension is quite fun, but when Gail finally gives in to her desire, she sufferes no attack conscience. Because the show is genrally about good and evil, Gail's failure to consider the consequences of her actions only helps to further unravle the show's thread.

Strangely, the secondary characters are better written. Deputy Ben struggles constantly with his morals as Lucas' right-hand-man, and Selena Coombs, Lucas' morally ambiguous concubine is Caleb's school teacher. Through these characters, more so than through anyone else, the audience identifies with themes of morality, culpability, and grace.

Sadly, American Gothic hasn't aged well. It was made on rather generous budget, but suffered from low production values which can impede a modern audience's enjoyment. The pilot is the best episode of the season and I recommend watching it as a kind of mini TV movie, though there's of course no resolution.

4 comments:

Ms Harker said...

I remember watching this show, I never knew it was supposed to be a satire. Like you said the themes etc were quite dark. I enjoyed it but, I am not surprised that it has dated!

www.musingcontinuum.com

Anonymous said...

You completely missed the point about Gail surrendering herself to Lucas. In an early episode, she made a deal with him to get answers about her parents -- her clearly implied end of the bargain being a carnal call with Lucas. At the end of that episode, Lucas came to collect and Gail said "I'm not ready." Gail hooking up with Lucas was inevitable from that point forward, whether Gail buried it in her subconscious or not.

Anonymous said...

thats very true she made the deal in ring of fire but i think that was what lucas intended he wanted her from the start and as time went on she was always gonna fall in love with him loved the show pity there wasnt more .

debs hanley said...

yes i agree about her making a deal in ring of fire but it was inevitable they would end up together just wish there had been another series they left us with so many questions that needed to be answered.