Summer television is an interesting animal. Most of your favorites are on hiatus, leaving you sifting through a mishmash of reality television to fill your evening hours. In order to be worthwhile, summer television must be one of two things: scandalous enough to keep viewers intrigued, like Lifetime’s UnREAL, or so unabashedly ridiculous that they cannot look away, like Zoo. Unfortunately, CBS’s new family-driven thriller American Gothic is neither. With a predictable storyline and bland characters, there isn’t much here to set it apart.
The series centers around the Hawthornes, an affluent Boston family who may or may not be (they definitely are) connected to a serial killer known as Silver Bells. Fourteen years ago, the murders stopped, just around the time that the Hawthornes’ oldest son, Garrett (Antony Starr) disappeared, which apparently none of the siblings put together before now. Patriarch Mitchell (Jamey Sheridan) and his wife, Madeline (Virginia Madsen), have kept the rest of the family together since then, with their daughter Alison (Juliet Rylance) launching a mayoral campaign with a well-honed image and seemingly perfect family, Tessa (Megan Ketch), the baby of the family who’s only characteristics are sweet and married to a cop, and then their other son Cam (Justin Chatwin, wearing the most distractingly terrible wig in recent memory), who may be a junkie but who’s also a commercially successful cartoonist. On top of Cam’s fight for sobriety (he doesn’t fight hard), he’s got a pending divorce and a son named Jack (Gabriel Bateman) who likes to draw autopsies and perform gruesome experiments on cats. The timeline may not line up for little Jack to be Silver Bells, but this kid definitely has serial killer tendencies.
As the family gathers to support Alison’s campaign, a tunnel using Hawthorne concrete collapses, revealing a Silver Bells murder weapon. The ensuing stress sends Mitchell to the hospital with a heart attack, and draws Garrett out of seclusion. With the family back together again, American Gothic does it’s best to raise suspicion about every single Hawthorne after a box of silver bells and newspaper clippings (with adolescent Cam’s scribblings on it, so you know it’s legit) are found in storage.