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American Gothic? More Like Touched by Satan! - The Book of the Celestial Cow

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April 10th, 2007


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11:14 pm - American Gothic? More Like Touched by Satan!
What do you get when Shaun Cassidy (Invasion), David Eick (Battlestar Galactica), Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, Spider-Man 2), David Kemper (Farscape), and Stephen Gaghan (Traffic) make a show together? You get one of the best shows CBS ever cancelled and one of my favorite shows when I was a kid, American Gothic.

American Gothic is a southern Gothic tale set in Trinity, South Carolina, where the most important person in town is Sheriff Lucas Buck, played by Gary Cole. Most people associate him with Office Space, but he'll always be Lucas Buck to me. It's like the role was made for him. Now, Lucas Buck is not the Devil himself, according to the creators, but he's close enough. He's always making deals that don't exactly turn out the way you expect them to. He can turn his swaggering charm on and off at the drop of the hat, leaving you with a manipulative beast not to be toyed with. But he's only doing it for the good of the community, after all. And, really, he only gave you the rope; you're the one who tied the noose.

Our protagonist is Caleb Temple, played by Lucas Black, the kid from Sling Blade and the X-Files movie. Lucas Buck takes a particular interest in him for reasons that will become clear in the pilot. Opposing him, however, is Caleb's sister Merlyn, played by Sarah Paulson, most recently of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (here, she's a brunette and still very pretty). Merlyn is alive for about five minutes, but it's a good thing she's on a supernatural show, since she gets to spend the series as a ghost. The main focus of the show is Merlyn and Lucas fighting the eternal battle between good and evil as manifested in the struggle for Caleb.

But there's also Gail Emory, Caleb's cousin, a reporter who comes to town both to take care of Caleb and to finally get some answers about her parents' deaths. And Dr. Matt Crower, another recent transplant who takes a liking to Caleb and a disliking to Sheriff Buck. And Selena Coons, the sultry siren of a schoolteacher who also happens to be Sheriff Buck's lover. And Ben Healey, Buck's protégée, who isn't sure how to continue working for a man whose motto is "All guilt is relative, loyalty counts, and never let your conscience be your guide."

At the heart of the show is the theme of choice. Nearly every episode involves Lucas Buck fucking someone over not by specifically doing anything to him but allowing him to make the wrong choices all by himself. Caleb Temple can choose whether he wants to accept Lucas's mentorship or not. The town is full of flawed characters who can choose whether Lucas's help is the kind of help they need (hint: it never is).

American Gothic had the same behind-the-scenes drama that plagues most cult hits. The people who bought the pilot were fired by the time the show went to air, and the new people were totally behind the show...as long as they made some changes. This may account for the fact that the first few episodes start off very strongly with a lot of momentum, and then the episodes get a little repetitive (Lucas sways Caleb for about forty minutes until Caleb decides he hates him again at the end, lather, rinse, repeat). At some point, Cassidy and Co. saw the writing on the wall, and they knew they weren't going to be back, so they started writing toward ending the series in the finale. About halfway through the series, the show gets really good again as the arc kicks back into gear. Crazy shit happens in the epic finale.

The show is not without its flaws, though. The special effects in 1995 were not very good, so that can be a little distracting. At times, the technique of flashing ominous images to create moodiness is overdone. I'm not sure the worldbuilding is completely sound, as the rules regarding the supernatural elements seem to change when it's convenient. Most maddeningly, however, characterization feels wildly inconsistent. You can have what look like really important character moments in an episode that don't seem to have any repercussions at all in future episodes (it doesn't help that some very important things happened in episodes that were unaired and CBS aired the show out of order (even the DVDs don't have the episodes in the right order).

Despite the flaws, however, it's still a great show that is likely different from what you're used to. It's the kind of show you might not want to watch in the dark, alone, because there's nothing happy about it. It's dark and twisted and creepy, like any good example of the southern Gothic. And you'll never, ever forget Lucas Buck. If you watch the show for no other reason, watch for Gary Cole's portrayal of pure, unadulterated evil. And remember:

Someone's at the door.
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(23 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

Comments:


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From:latropita
Date:April 11th, 2007 06:23 am (UTC)
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Our protagonist is Caleb Temple, played by Lucas Black, the kid from Sling Blade and the X-Files movie.
Dude, that kid is fucking creepy, and that's all I have to say about the show. I kept reading "Lucas Black" and "Lucas Buck" as the same, and I would totally not be surprised to find out he was playing Satan. Sounds interesting, though.
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From:sophiap
Date:April 11th, 2007 10:24 am (UTC)
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Oh. thank you for posting this. I remember how much I loved this show when it was on the air. It's nice to know that there is someone else out there who will forever associate Gary Cole with truly creepy evil. The only problem now is that I'm starting to think that I'd really like someone to write a AG/Supernatural crossover.

I may just have to add this to my Netflix queue for the summer.

(How long until new Avatar again?)
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From:spectralbovine
Date:April 11th, 2007 03:18 pm (UTC)
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The only problem now is that I'm starting to think that I'd really like someone to write a AG/Supernatural crossover.
Duuuuude!

I may just have to add this to my Netflix queue for the summer.
It's difficult to Netflix properly, though, because...actually, since the stupid discs are double-sided, you can have all three. But you need all three because you have to switch discs a lot to watch the show in the right order.

(How long until new Avatar again?)
Looks like September. Yeah. I know.
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From:shpyum
Date:April 11th, 2007 04:23 pm (UTC)
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Bah, and btw, HUMBUG to September. aLthough I am still not caught up, so I have some leeway.

Also, I have a soft spot for ominous taglines (Winter is Coming.), so I would check out American Gothic just to find out about the someone at the door.

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From:spectralbovine
Date:April 11th, 2007 04:36 pm (UTC)
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What's "Winter is coming" from?

And you should definitely check out American Gothic to find out about the someone at the door!

You're still not caught up on Avatar??
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From:shpyum
Date:April 11th, 2007 04:56 pm (UTC)
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I'm watching it on Nick, and they keep replaying the same eps! I need to just go get the DVDS, but I'm afraid if I had both seasons I would, like, not go to work.

"Winter is Coming" is the family motto for the Stark family in the Song of Ice + Fire series by George R. R. Martin. Which HBO is making a series of. Whoo!!!
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From:harper47
Date:April 11th, 2007 11:54 am (UTC)
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I adore American Gothic. Adore. I remember watching it when it premiered and being so impressed by the atmosphere.

Hee - someone's at the door.

You know, the opening scenes are so menacing and fraught with tension. And you know - it didn't click until I read this that Merlyn was Sarah Paulson. Huh.

"You can have what look like really important character moments in an episode that don't seem to have any repercussions at all in future episodes (it doesn't help that some very important things happened in episodes that were unaired and CBS aired the show out of order (even the DVDs don't have the episodes in the right order)."

This drove me crazy at the time.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:April 11th, 2007 03:20 pm (UTC)
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I remember watching it when it premiered and being so impressed by the atmosphere.
Yeah, the atmosphere is one of its strengths.

This drove me crazy at the time.
I totally didn't even notice at the time. I was young. All I remember is being confused when the show didn't come back, because I loved it and WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?
(Deleted comment)
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From:kammgirl
Date:April 11th, 2007 01:55 pm (UTC)
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I loved American Gothic. I was sad when it got cancelled. I loved Invasion too and damn they left that on a cliff hanger. I will have to get the AG DVDs.
From:rssrss
Date:April 11th, 2007 02:06 pm (UTC)
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I loved this show. In fact, when I first watched VM, it reminded me of this show. Now, of course, I see that was only a surface similarity, but still, I think they have things in common. I didn't know they put it out on dvd. I'm going to have to get those, and see if it's as good as I remember.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:April 11th, 2007 03:21 pm (UTC)
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Cool! It's so great to see all these other people who loved the show. It was one of my favorites; I was so glad to see it put out on DVD, even if they didn't bother putting the episodes in the right order.
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From:queenrikki_hp
Date:April 11th, 2007 02:29 pm (UTC)
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I loved this show and it forever cemented my admiration of Gary Cole.
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From:honeybunnylilb
Date:April 11th, 2007 04:04 pm (UTC)
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You make me want to check it out. I'm glad it was written with a resolution too. I saw ads for it but was too busy studying to watch, plus I was living in an uber-strict Christian household at the time (I had to spend a minimum of 2 hours a day on my knees ... don't ask) and so AG was forbidden viewing.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:April 11th, 2007 04:12 pm (UTC)
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Dude, that's awesome. Now you can watch and learn all about angels and demons.
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From:meghatron
Date:April 11th, 2007 07:09 pm (UTC)
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I really like that show. I own the set, but haven't sat down to rewatch them yet -- glad to know about the wrong order.
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From:maka2000
Date:April 11th, 2007 08:59 pm (UTC)
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American Gothic is a southern Gothic tale set in Trinity, South Carolina, where the most important person in town is Sheriff Lucas Buck, played by Gary Cole. Most people associate him with Office Space, but he'll always be Lucas Buck to me. It's like the role was made for him.

I loved American Gothic! Gary Cole got me in, and I stayed till they canceled the sucker. I was so bummed it got canned.

And now: Why I Love Gary Cole, (I'm bored, sue me)

The first time I ever saw Gary Cole was in an old TV mini-series called Fatal Vision. Even though I saw the series as a little kid, I thought Cole was amazing in it. I actually rented the mini-series again when I was an adult, just to see if it was actually as good as I remembered, and it WAS. (Karl Malden won an Emmy for Supporting Actor in a mini-series and it was nominated for Best Writing in a mini.)

The mini was based on a true story and Cole played a man named Jeffrey MacDonald. MacDonald was a doctor and Captain in the Army who was accused of murdering his wife and 2 small daughters. It was SO chilling, and Cole was absolutely amazing in it. He had to play a character who was just charming enough to make you think he was innocent - but also scary enough to make you doubt yourself. I highly recommend it. Seeing that series, along with American Gothic, Office Space and stuff like The Brady Bunch movies - I think really illustrates how very talented he is!

I was also a big fan of this show of his called Midnight Caller. It was on for 3 seasons. It was very noir, with pretty dark themes. He played an ex cop, disgraced after accidentally shooting his partner. He starts hosting this midnight radio show where all the broken souls out there would call in and ask for advice - so most of the action happened at night, in moody darkness. It was so good!

I've loved him ever since that stuff. Yep.

*waves*
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From:spectralbovine
Date:April 11th, 2007 09:02 pm (UTC)
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Cool! You should be bored more often.
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From:maka2000
Date:April 11th, 2007 09:12 pm (UTC)
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Hee! I'm a fountain of useless TV information.
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From:zenkitty_714
Date:April 15th, 2007 06:05 pm (UTC)
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I loved American Gothic!

EVIL never wins... except when it does.
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From:cofax7
Date:April 17th, 2007 06:13 pm (UTC)
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Man, I remember that show--but I had no idea David Kemper was involved with it. Awesome.

And clearly someone does need to do an SPN crossover, it's perfect. Hell, Caleb would have been about Dean's age... ::ponders::

No, I'd have to rent them and watch and it's not like I don't have enough on my plate. But someone should!
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From:spectralbovine
Date:April 17th, 2007 10:21 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, I had no idea either, and it's not listed on his IMDb bio, but every episode, there it is—PRODUCER: DAVID KEMPER.
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From:korndolly666
Date:March 6th, 2008 09:52 pm (UTC)
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I wondered about the DVD episodes being in order or not. Gale was pregnant then she wasn't but I couldn't remember if I'd seen what happened and had just forgotten

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