If first impressions serve as a lasting imprint of what one should expect from of a developing series, then CBS’s new horror-drama “American Gothic” fails to hook viewers into its pilot. The horror genre is abundant on television, a fact which ultimately leaves little room for originality. And while thriller series such as “American Horror Story” and “Bates Motel” have received critical praise for their work in this genre, shows like “The Family” have failed to make it past their first season. It’s in this aspect that originality breeds success and the possibility of renewal for an up-and-coming series — bad news for “American Gothic” — which fails to impress with a blatantly plain cliche of the horror genre.
The premise of “American Gothic” is one of deception and paranoia, stemming from the style of horror writers Corinne Brinkerhoff and James Frey are attempting to portray, though they botch an attempt at originality of a classic trope. A prominent Boston family, the Hawthornes, face public scrutiny following the discovery of a murder who is closer to home than anticipated. From the beginning of the first episode, they sprint ahead with the proverbial knife. While character introductions are often lengthy in a pilot, and annoying to viewers because of the awkward pauses in plot and endless names to remember, these things make a series better in the long run. In “American Gothic,” however, viewers backpedal and struggle to properly distinguish the basic facts of the series after only the first twenty minutes of the episode, which is in desperate need of a breather between introductions.
Although many of the lines are meant to be delivered in darker tones, they carry across the levity relatable to that of a daytime soap opera. While the members of the cast have presented themselves appropriately in their respective roles, their acting styles are ill-adapted to the darker tone of the series, ultimately leading to forced emotions and poor attempts at serious lines. A flat effect that resounds among the entire cast takes the writing — which may otherwise be appropriate for this genre — into a platonic haze of bad deliveries. After the rapid introductions concluded, the direction of the series was revealed in a highly predictable manner, which only serves to diminish viewer interest. In fact, the only anticipated aspect of the series will be found in the murder’s true identity, which will easily be revealed by a quick skip to episode thirteen in a few weeks.
Overall, the writing is up to par with the standards of any horror genre miniseries, albeit leaning precariously into drama territory. Although this could be passed off as a shaky pilot under normal circumstances, a cast that ultimately delivers poor performances creates an unimpressive start to the new series, episode number aside. Even the morbidly obsessed grandson, Jack (Gabriel Bateman, “Annabelle”), feels like a desperate toss to the dark side by the writers as a last-ditch effort to spark a horror series out of a lazy Sunday soap. Although the first episode was unimpressive for a straight-to-series order, “American Gothic” shows a hint of promise as long as the cast falls into their parts quickly. Otherwise, they run the risk of slowly suffocating to death under the weight of better options.