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)