American Gothic centers on a prominent Boston family reeling in the wake of the chilling discovery that someone in their midst is linked to an infamous string of murders. Secrets from the past and present are revealed, their mounting suspicion and paranoia that one of them is a killer threatens to tear the family apart. After watching the pilot I initially thought this show was a mish-mashed attempt at a Whodunnit, a poor man’s Agatha Christie. Too many red herrings, too many plot twists, just too much. But upon digesting it, then listening to cast and creator exclaim their enthusiasm I had to give it another look.
A mentee of David E. Kelly, Corinne Brinkerhoff (Creator/Executive Producer) brings forth a show that could live in an American Horror Story/True Detective/Clue universe. “I knew my whole arc from the beginning, all the broad strokes when I pitched this almost 2 years ago. The story has evolved since but the big pieces are all the same. It was planned as a whole blueprint. Each episode has to work within the whole fabric, as opposed to other shows I’ve worked on with stand alone episodes.”
Given how meticulously Brinkerhoff works, she has already thought of future seasons. “I always pictured this as a seasonal anthology where every season is its own contained story with the same cast. I’d love to create all 6 seasons I’ve envisioned.”
The core of the show is the family and without strong actors it could’ve have fallen far short of expectations. Each character is so layered that in the hands of less talented actors the whole show would’ve unraveled quickly and spectacularly. But Brinkerhoff has assembled an amazing brood to portray this troubled family. Virginia Madsen, Anthony Starr, Justin Chatwin, and Juliet Rylance are real standouts.
Rylance who plays Alison Hawthorne-Price, the eldest sister and a commanding force in Boston politics. (Actually, all the women on this show are commanding forces. Huge plus.) In the middle of her contentious mayoral run arises family turmoil. Juliet’s Alice traverses the harsh conditions with both grace and grit. She is a revelation. Playing a sometimes morally ambiguous politician who was raised in a rags to riches family has given Rylance room to shine. She straddles both sides, where you trust her and then you don’t. “Even early on we didn’t know the outcome…so you’re constantly thinking ‘Could it be me?’ I think every one of us thought we could be the murderer.”
“Every week when we get the script, we are all debating who did it and trying to figure it out. The crew after every scene would change who they thought did it. It’s definitely been fun,” Rylance gleefully explains. And when questioned about the multiple red herrings and confusion of characters she popped right back. “I like that it’s set up so anyone could be the culprit, I think that’s true to life, where you’re focused on one person and then another enters the frame. Before you know it…it could be anyone. I think Corrine has done that really well.”
Towards the end of the pilot, two things stood out. The first was it’s edging towards dark comedy territory, it’s subtle and definitely makes things more palatable. It cleanses the air, lightens their world. The second the beautiful use of imagery. Each episode is named after a famous American work of art…much like the title. The pilot is ‘Arrangement in Grey and Black.’ This image is so iconic, it was recreated flawlessly and feels completely organic. Honestly, I’d continue watching to see how they manage to work each painting into the episodes.
While I am still a bit dubious of how the plot will shake out there is strong character work to keep me intrigued…..for the time being. American Gothic airs this Wednesday, June 22 at 10/9c on CBS.