American Gothic 1995-1996
American Gothic Splash Page
Here are the relevant facts about the plot of "American Gothic," originally aired on TV from 1995-1996, which gives you just enough information to dive into the series without revealing too much and ruining the plot.
Sheriff Lucas Buck
The sheriff of a small town called Trinity is a peculiar figure named Sheriff Lucas Buck (Gary Cole). Cole is at his best here. He plays evil with a smooth exterior. The script and Cole are dead-on when epitomizing the essence of evil. With a few deft alterations/configurations of fate, Buck is able to manipulate people because he knows their weaknesses. He preys upon the weakness of human character, and this is really the selling point of the entire series. Cole doesn't have to transform into some horned beast. No, everything is pretty subtle here. The directors depended upon the acting ability of their cast to depict this ongoing struggle between good and evil. And good does not always triumph. Cole is so perfect for this saga that it's difficult to see him as being anyone other than Sheriff Lucas Buck. You'd have to watch him in the TV movie "Fatal Vision" (1984) to get any idea of this actor's depth and dimension. He is one of the most under-appreciated actors in the business who nevertheless has had a long and successful career. Cole is so good at his job that one tends to overlook the man's incredible talent. He is the backbone of the entire show. One tuned in to see what Buck was going to do next. Backed by excellent writing skills, Cole is able to bring a sense of belief to the entire series.
Something never revealed sets Buck off on a rampage one night, and he kills his daughter (Merlyn Temple) Sarah Paulson. Paulson is exemplary in her role. Her input to the show shifts as the series goes by. She is initially presented as a protective ghost visible only to her brother Caleb. Later, she exerts much more force to counterbalance the influence of Lucas Buck over Caleb -- not with an entirely satisfactory outcome. Paulson does such a terrific ghost-character that you'd wish you had such a devoted sister. I never saw her in anything after this series, and that seemed shameful because her performance was flawless.
Buck's son, Caleb Temple (Lucas Black -- weird similarities in names) manages to escape the carnage and fire the night his sister dies. Caleb is placed into orphanage. However, it is evident that Sheriff Lucas has plans/designs for the young boy. Those who are conscious of these designs/ambitions do not look kindly upon them. Lucas Black played Caleb with such perfection that the actor himself became invisible. For such a young boy, Black did such a exemplary job in his role that a viewer just accepted him as Caleb -- an innocent lad in jeopardy. Black blended into his role so superlatively and seemingly effortlessly that you accept the character immediately. He was Caleb and one never thought about a young actor taking on a really demanding role. That is rare.
The other ensemble of characters who add some weight and depth to the series are:
Paige Turco (in the role of Gail Emory) Paige had a difficult assignment here. She was both protective of Caleb but also prone to seduction by Lucas. As with everyone on the cast, she was solid and believable.
Brenda Bakke (Selena Kiles) Brenda Bakke was outstanding as Selena -- Lucas' go-to girl accept for those times when she would have none of him. In conversation with other male friends, we all agreed she was incredibly hot. She didn't portray a bimbo. Far from it. Brenda brought a great deal of complexity to her character. Again, I don't recall seeing her again after this brief series, and I'm sorry for that as this lady could really act.
Deputy Ben Healy (Nick Searcy) Nick was another character who was so fine an actor that you never considered or thought of him as an actor in a role. He became Deputy Ben Healy -- for all his merits and faults. If an actor can disappear into his character, you have to give him kudos because we expect/want this but are never really prepared for it.
Dr. Matt (Crower (Jake Weber). Initially, we are led to believe that Dr. Matt is going to be the major obstacle for Lucas Buck's designs upon Caleb. Then something in the writing of his role shifted dramatically and he became ineffectual. But, Weber bent with the breeze. He didn't turn out to be what we expected. Lucas was just to powerful of an entity. So although the character turned out to be a disappointment, Weber played both ends very convincingly.
Everyone in contact with Caleb felt a sense of protectiveness toward him -- accept Sheriff Buck. His attitude if anything was more like ownership.
One of the more interesting elements of the series is its use of the supernatural. In several episodes Caleb is visited by his dead sister Merlyn (murdered by Lucas) who does everything she can to make her brother stay clear of Lucas. She's a powerful angel, and has some degree of influence over Caleb.
Lucas Buck is a keen operator, and he implants the idea in the child's mind that everyone is trying to hold him back from his full potential -- except himself, of course.
Not every episode is focused on Lucas Buck. Some episodes are written to stand on their own. The usual circumstances of any individual in Trinity is due to some kind of dark bargain set up by Lucas Buck.
The performers are all very good, The series moves forward at the pace set by Sheriff Buck. Simultaneously we despise Sheriff Buck while admiring his guile and cunning. Like all of us, he has some good days and some bad days. The character of Merlyn Temple presents the only real chance of saving Caleb from being consumed by his father -- evil incarnate.
The series sounds unrelentingly grim, but that isn't the case. There is a great deal of humor, sarcasm and witticisms to make us pay close attention to the dialogue.
I recommend the series to anyone who is a fan of the supernatural or who just likes films about good vs. evil. The series doesn't require a gigantic investment of time (such as "Lost"). The program didn't have a long life because the network kept changing its time of broadcast or interrupting it for a sports event. Seeing the series broken up this way, it's easy to understand why it didn't get renewed. Overall, it's worthy of one's time and attention.