TV Review: “American Gothic” – Whodunit?

Written by Danielle Sing September 26, 2016

american gothic

“American Gothic”, not to be confused with the film of the same name from 1988, is the murder mystery whodunit of the summer. The series claims to be thrilling and dark, but at times comes off as disturbed and even disturbingly comedic. Suspense comes in the form of paranoia, which works well with the characters and cinematography of the series. While the drama is what you would expect for this series, if the tone was made more intense, it could have been a quite successful show instead of a soap opera with serial killers.

The Hawthorne family reunites when daughter Alison (Juliet Rylance) announces that she is running for mayor and wants her whole family to be a part of her campaign. At the same time, the Silver Bells Killer (SBK), a serial killer from 14 years ago, case reopens. Garrett (Anthony Starr), the oldest Hawthorne child, returns after being absent for over a decade. When Mitch (Jamey Sheridan), the Hawthorne patriarch, dies suddenly, the local police suspect that he is the Silver Bells Killer. Youngest Hawthorne siblings Cam (Justin Chatwin) and Tessa (Megan Ketch) find a box of silver bells hidden in their house. Madeline (Virigina Madsen), the Hawthrone matriarch, desperately tries to keep her family and their secrets together, but the police start to suspect other family members as well.

“Now, the working theory is that SBK had a deeply engrained resentment of wealth and power. SBK saw himself as some sort of mascot of a populist uprising. Then he stopped.”

With a title like “American Gothic”, audiences expect the series to be dark and suspenseful, but it only delivers on some of these factors. While the series can have dark themes – murder, addiction, mental illness etc – the characters seem to be more moody than dark, and some are just disturbed. The disturbing moments can come off as stand off-ish, but some are oddly comedic. An example of this is when Jack decides his therapist puppet is not anatomically correct, so he creates his own using someone’s dentures. If the tone was more dark and the themes more intensely expressed, it would seem less disturbing and create a better, lasting shiver down the audience’s spine. Instead it seems almost family friendly. The suspense is well done is a way that both characters and viewers experience the same suspense. The suspense comes in the form of paranoia and it adds to the whodunit factor of the series.

american gothic

The drama within “American Gothic” is quite textbook for any family related drama/soap opera. There are divorce and custody battles, funerals, a lot of adultery, unexpected pregnancies, and even awkward family reunions. It’s what you expect, nothing more and nothing less. At least the whodunit factor of “American Gothic” is well done. The audience only knows what the characters know (specifically the Hawthorne children). The show doesn’t suddenly share any clues with you at the end of the series, all the information that leads you to SBK is there. It does have a good reveal that feels appropriate and consistent with the plot of the whole series.

“There were nights towards the end, in his lucid moments, when he told me he wanted to die. And he asked for my help.”

Lastly, the cinematography is fantastic in “American Gothic”. Each frame is like a painting – such is the series namesake and the namesake for each episode is a piece of American painting. The play of focus and framing is great, separating or creating closeness with characters when needed. There is always symmetry and leading lines to direct your eye around the screen, sometimes with the characters out of the main focus. I don’t mean it is like painting for a cliché simile, I mean that literally.

american gothic

In conclusion, “American Gothic” is good whodunit series with well done paranoid suspense and excellent cinematography. The series could be more dark and the drama less soap opera-esque. “American Gothic” is well put together and complex like “Clue” board game, but was also just as family friendly and light hearted as a “Clue” board game.

My Rating: 6/10

american gothic

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