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CBS’ 'American Gothic' Echoes 'The Family' and is ‘BrainDead' Bizarre
June 22, 2016  | By David Hinckley

So this prominent, respectable New England family has to cover up inconvenient details of an awful crime, because someone’s running for high political office and those details could derail those aspirations.

“Wait,” the dedicated TV viewer might say at this point. “Didn’t ABC cancel The Family?”

And the dedicated TV viewer would be right. ABC did. But CBS has resurrected a remarkably similar concept with American Gothic, a 13-week summer series that premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET.

As one of a modest number of viewers who liked The Family, I don’t mind this déjà vu. Besides, American Gothic gives us a different batch of basically unlikeable characters.

American Gothic also fits nicely with CBS’s other two summer series, Zoo and BrainDead, which also present the world as a creepy place full of sordid secrets.

American Gothic focuses on the Hawthorne family, whose patriarch Mitchell (Jamey Sheridan, top) built a small construction business into a dominant, well-connected building empire specializing in concrete.

Now his daughter Alison Hawthorne-Price (Juliet Rylance, right) is running for mayor of Boston, challenging incumbent Billy Conley (Enrico Colantoni).

Alison seems to get some of her ambition from her coolly domineering mother Madeline (Virginia Madsen, top), and she has the support of most of her siblings, including Cam (Justin Chatwin), Tessa (Megan Ketch) and Tessa’s detective husband Brady (Elliot Knight).

Their presence is important, Alison’s political consultant explains, because the Hawthornes have to look proletarian and normal, even though they are rich and screwed up.

Cam, for instance, is a recovering addict with a disturbed ex, and their young son Jack (Gabriel Bateman) already shows signs of being a dangerous psychotic.

The other sibling, Garrett (Antony Starr), moved away 14 years ago for unexplained reasons and had not been seen since. Then when Mitch has a heart attack and Garrett returns, not everyone is happy to see him. Hmmm.

Anyway, a good campaign manager could finesse all this until the police, and more specifically Brady, get a random break that reopens a long-dormant serial murder case. The “Silver Bell Killer” tortured victims and left only a single silver bell as a clue.

The problem: There could be a link to the Hawthornes. In fact, there probably is a link to the Hawthornes.

Needless to say, this would not be good news for Alison’s campaign, and frankly, it wouldn’t be all that pleasant for the other Hawthornes, either.

American Gothic promises to explore both sides here, the truth behind this secret and the impact of trying to cover it up.

It’s worth mentioning again that this was also the core storyline in The Family, and while American Gothic isn’t the same show, it may face one of the same problems: On our first run through the lineup, it’s hard to find any Hawthorne who looks like you want them running point for you on truth and justice.

While some hearts will be blacker than others, and it’s fine to have nuanced characters whose honest instincts sometimes lead them to bad choices, some sprig of decency has to poke through the ground.

In the end, somebody has to be better than the others, and we have to believe what happens with all of them. We want truth and we want consequences.

But first we have to care enough about the Hawthornes so we will invest 13 weeks to get there. That’s the biggest challenge for American Gothic.

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