By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Even more so than the perpetual pre-empting of Arrested Development and the anemic decline of Alias, the biggest disappointment in the fall TV season so far is Invasion, the sci-fi series on ABC from creator Shaun Cassidy. (Yes, that Shaun Cassidy. Yeah, I secretly hum "Hey, Deanie" when his name comes on screen, too . . .) Despite a fine cast, so far the moody alien takeover tale has hardly gelled; the characters aren't terribly compelling, their fear somehow lacking in urgency. Or something. It's hard to pinpoint, just as it was difficult to put into words why Cassidy's previous outing -- the 1995 CBS outing American Gothic, co-produced by Sam Raimi—was such a masterpiece.
We may yet get a chance to find the right words: After much fan clamoring and 10 years since its debut, American Gothic's one and only season hits DVD shelves this week. At first glance, there are similarities to Invasion: strange goings on in a small town, a creepy sheriff whose motives are unclear and a youngster at the center of the action. Yet where the new show looks to the skies for its menace, the far more unsettling American Gothic is more introspective. A rich Southern morality tale rife with spirits, vengeance, and murder, it unravels as a series of nightmarish events in the life of 10-year-old Caleb (the miraculous Lucas Black, just before his turn in Sling Blade), his family and friends, and the domineering devil-incarnate Sheriff Lucas Buck (a charming, debonair, and entirely sinister Gary Cole; Cole has managed something of a cult-hero trifecta with his roles here, as the boss in Office Space and as the voice of Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law).
Masterfully achieving a slow-burn up to its unexpected finale, American Gothic is addictively original television that richly deserves a second look. Included in the box set are four episodes which went unaired in the show's first run, plus a number of deleted and extended scenes.
Also recommended this week: The Concert for Bangladesh; Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist; In Living Color: Season 4; Le Samouraï; Rebel Samurai - Sixties Swordplay Classics (Criterion)