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Universal Studios Home Video presents
American Gothic: The Complete Series (1995-96)

Deputy Ben Healy: What's going on here?
Sheriff Lucas Buck: Oh, all kinds of fun.

- Nick Searcy, Gary Cole

Review By: Nate Meyers  
Published: November 02, 2005

Stars: Gary Cole, Paige Turco, Jake Weber, Brenda Bakke, Sarah Paulson, Lucas Black, Nick Searcy, John Mese
Other Stars: Christopher Fennell, Alex Van, Lynda Clark, Tina Lifford, Michael Burgess, Tammy Arnold, Tamara Dow, McKenzie LaCoss, Sonny Shroyer, Mert Hatfield, David Lenthall, Charles McLawhorn, Ron Perkins, Gina Stewart, Rafael Santo, Charly Williams, Barry Bell, Granoldo Frazier, Bob Hannah, Evan Rachel Wood, Donald S. Bland, Brigid Walsh, Barnaby Carpenter, Juliet Cesario, Jana Drue, Steve Rankin, Troy Simmons, Judy Bowen, Wash Sutpen, Helen Baldwin, Melissa Suzanne McBride, Linda Pierce, John Bennes, Trip Cogburn, Joe Inscoe, Sara Lynn Moore, Derin Altay, Brice Campbell, Keith Flippen, Mark Joy, David Lenthall, Selden Smith, Matt Craven, Aubrey Dollar, Richard Edson, Andi Carnick, Megan Gallacher, Michael Genevie, Charlotte Hackman, Laura Robbins, William Morgan Sheppard, Lynda Clark, Jeff Perry, Randell Haynes, Danny Masterson, John Keenan, Collin Wilcox Paxton, Philip Loch, Andrea Powell, Greg Travis, Irene Ziegler, Wayne Dehart, Tim Grimm, Pat Hingle, Ruth Reid, Margo Moorer, Robin Mullins, Tamara Burnham, Veronica Cartwright, Will Leskin, Bill Roberson, Nancy Saunders, Regan Forman, Stuart Greer, Wallace Merck, Ted Raimi, Russell Deats, James Frawley, Gareth Williams, Jim Antonio, Lee Freeman, Brent Jennings, Lindley Mayer
Director: Various

Manufacturer: deluxe digital studios
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, sensuality)
Run Time: 16h:41m:17s
Release Date: October 25, 2005
UPC: 025192860225
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Welcome to Trinity, South Carolina, a small town straight out of American folklore. Under the direction of Sheriff Lucas Buck (Gary Cole), just about everything runs smoothly in Trinity. The streets are clean, the people accommodating, and the town brims with good old-fashioned values. Sheriff Buck is just about the most appealing man you can imagine, completely committed to ridding the town of unwanted criminals, keeping a watchful eye on the school children, and he's even been known to lend a helping hand when one of Trinity's fair citizens is in need. There's a catch, of course, to Lucas' good behavior. You see, it seems that he's an evil entity, perhaps even the Prince of Darkness. Within that gentle good humor, insidious smile, and laissez-faire demeanor lies the heart of a monster.

American Gothic originally aired on CBS starting in the fall of 1995, but failed to amass a large enough audience to bring it back for a second season. Slowly during the late '90s, this show from creator Shaun Cassidy garnered a cult following in spite of the fact that fans had only 18 episodes to choose from. However, the cast and the writing are so fiendishly delightful that any fan of offbeat television will want to gulp down each episode repeatedly. Now accompanied by four episodes that didn't make the cut back in '95, American Gothic: The Complete Series arrives on DVD, confirming indeed that "someone's at the door."

Those words became the catchphrase for the show, being spoken by the troubled Merlyn Temple (Sarah Paulson) in Pilot right before her own father tries to kill her. Stalking after Merlyn as if he's Jack Torrance, Gage (Sonny Shroyer) is stopped by the omnipresent sheriff, thanks in part to Merlyn's little brother, Caleb (Lucas Black). Yet, just because Lucas doesn't want his townsmen killing one another doesn't mean he'll hold himself to the same standard. Caressing Merlyn, Sheriff Buck breaks her neck right before holding a press conference on the Temples' front porch. Gary Cole is so perfect as Lucas Buck that it's easy to see how such an evil person can obtain so much power...hell, watching him work the press made me even think I should vote for him.

In the wake of Merlyn's death, all sorts of bizarre occurrences begin to happen. Caleb's journalist cousin Gail (Paige Turco) comes to town, since she may very well be his only living relative. Meanwhile, the town's Yankee doctor, Matt Crower (Jake Weber), refuses to hand over custody of Caleb to the sheriff. Apart from dealing with the troublesome doctor, Lucas must also deceive his deputy, Ben Healy (Nick Searcy), into dismissing his own witnessing of Merlyn's murder. Engaged in a mysterious relationship with Caleb's teacher, the ravishing seductress Selena Coombs (Brenda Bakke), Sheriff Buck upholds his image as the protector of the peace to the town, but Gail and Dr. Crower now become suspicious of his interest in Caleb. Making things even more complex is the return of Merlyn, who appears to Caleb in an effort to save him from the clutches of his father who is, you guessed it, Lucas Buck.

The crux of the series is Caleb's decision to embrace either good or evil, with both forces taking a vested interest in every move he makes. There are many other storylines that crop up throughout, however, such as when Sheriff Buck decides to collect on a debt in Damned If You Don't. Having a need for an assistant down at the office, Lucas recommends that the junkyard owner, Carter Bowen (Steve Rankin), consent to allowing his blossoming daughter fill the position. When Carter refuses, however, all sorts of bad events come back to haunt him. Even as he systematically destroys Carter's wife, the good sheriff just keeps on winking and smiling. Therein lies the frightening nature of Lucas Buck, who puts most of his efforts into letting people destroy themselves. In Resurrector, it is downright chilling to see Lucas turn a radio personality (Greg Travis) against his very own wife, resulting in damaging consequences. So pervasive is Buck's evil plan that the local priest, Father Tilden (Pat Hingle), violates the sanctity of confession in Inhumanitas.

But there's room for hope, since Merlyn rivals Sheriff Buck from beyond the grave. She infiltrates his haven, such as in Echo of Your Last Goodbye when she manifests herself and dates Deputy Ben. It is also not certain what role Selena will play, especially since she seems to so enjoy her position as town tramp. When a new doctor, Billy Peale (John Mese), takes over for Crower during a plague epidemic in The Plague Sower, Selena soon sets her sights on the handsome practitioner. Lucas' male ego takes a hit from this, but soon he begins to seduce the equally nubile Gail. One of the most compelling episodes is Triangle, where Gail inexplicably falls victim to a bizarre illness after having sex with Sheriff Buck.

There are many more twists and turns in American Gothic, but I'll leave it to you to discover them as you watch little Caleb walk the line between good and evil. Whether his soul will end up as an instrument of God or Satan propels each episode forward, even if Caleb's screen presence is minimal. The show's techniques hold up amazingly well, even in light of the recent barrage of highly stylized, groundbreaking programs. Some of the fire effects employed to symbolize Lucas' all-seeing gaze are a tad hokey now, but they still convey his evil spirit and serve their purpose. The editing and camera techniques, such as using wide-angle lenses to create a sense of unseen terror, are simple and effective. The show's directors don't let their artistic prowess overwhelm the viewer, but instead focus their efforts mainly on telling good stories.

With a writing staff that consists of Stephen Gaghan (of Traffic fame) and Michael Nankin (writing for both the new Battlestar Galactica and Monk), each episode crackles with intrigue and wit. Sheriff Buck always seems to know exactly what pithy comment will slice right through another character's being, such as in Meet the Beetles when he delivers an odd, dark brand of justice to a crooked state police lieutenant (Bruce Campbell). Filled with a great sense of mystery and numerous clever twist, each script makes these over-the-top stories seem downright plausible. The writers weave various plot threads together throughout the season, making for an engrossing experience that is never dull and constantly satisfying.

Combined with the excellent writing, Gary Cole inhabits the role of Sheriff Lucas Buck perfectly. Watching Cole relish in Lucas' incessant, vindictive plotting is nothing short of amazing. The performance perfectly captures the essence of temptation, how it distorts the truth and searches for what's inside of you in order to bring about your own corruption. Just watch how Lucas talks Ben out of thinking he killed Merlynh—there's something unsettling and honest about what he's saying regarding shades of grey. Lucas Black also turns in stellar work as Caleb, giving hints of enjoying his dark powers in Learning to Crawl and also presenting Caleb's sense of guilt in Damned If You Don't. Words cannot describe how tantalizing Brenda Bakke is as Selena, nor can they capture how credible Paige Turco is as Gail.

Like Twin Peaks, American Gothic is a devilishly good time. Both shows look at the dark side of a quiet, small American town with intelligent writing, elegant acting, and fitting direction. Executive producer Sam Raimi and creator Shaun Cassidy should be very pleased with their show, even if it failed to spawn a second season. Watching Sheriff Lucas Buck work his black magic in these 22 episodes makes me wish television viewers could have had a few more years to see him serve the town of Trinity, South Carolina.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Each episode is shown in its original 1.33:1 broadcast ratio. Detail is somewhat weak and the overall image is grainy. Print defects do pop up on occasion, but not enough to be distracting. While this is not a particularly good transfer, it is better than anything syndicated re-run you'll catch on TV.

Image Transfer Grade: C-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono mix sounds quite nice, with a good balance between the music, sound effects, and dialogue. Each episode sounds crisp and the mix accurately reflects the show's original presentation.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 88 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Universal Studios Home Video Trailer, Battlestar Galactica: Season One DVD, Law & Order DVD Trailer, George A. Romero's Land of the Dead DVD
12 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Shaun Cassidy, David Eick
Packaging: other
3 Discs
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: American Gothic: The Complete Series comes in a three-disc set, with each dual-sided disc in its own slim case and a cardboard slip for all three discs. On Side A of Disc 1, there are trailers for Battlestar Galactica: Season One, Law and Order, and George A. Romero's Land of the Dead . A Universal Studios Home Video trailer promotes Klochak: The Night Stalker, American Gothic: The Complete Series, and The Munsters: Season Two. The Law and Order trailer highlights the franchise's various DVD season sets available for sale. In addition to these previews, there are some extras for select episodes.

Creator Shaun Cassidy and producer David Eick provide an audio commentary for the pilot, which Cassidy also wrote. The two men explain how they pitched it to CBS and even manage to recall a few anecdotes about production meetings. They seem to be having a nice time and point out some rather amusing tidbits as well. There's also an extended scene from the pilot (01m:31s), though it is extremely close to the one used in the finished episode.

The rest of the special features are various extended and deleted scenes from other episodes. Doctor Death Takes a Holiday features a scene with Dr. Peale taking over (:51s), The Beast Within continues with Caleb's deliberations on alcoholism (02m:37s), and Learning to Crawl also has an extended scene of Lucas and Caleb leaving the hospital (01m:41s). There's a deleted scene from Triangle (01m:29s) where Lucas explains the value of debts, two from The Buck Stops Here (01m:52s), and a nice extension to a pivotal scene in Requiem (02m:42s). In terms of the unaired episodes, Ring of Fire has two deleted scenes (:03m) between Selena and Crawley and Echo of Your Last Goodbye has three more (06m:25s). None of the deleted scenes are necessary, but they're interesting enough to look at.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

One of the greatest TV shows that never caught on, American Gothic: The Complete Series should make all fans of the show happy to finally have all 22 episodes on home video. The image transfer isn't the greatest, but this is an improvement on watching the re-runs from Sci-Fi Channel marathons. If you like the show, then you don't need my recommendation. If you haven't seen it, then trust me and buy a copy today.


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