1 9 9 5 – 1 9 9 6 (USA)
22 x 60 minute episodes
This decidedly creepy drama from CBS starred Gary Cole as devil incarnate Lucas Buck, sheriff of a rural Mayberry gone wrong.
The outwardly affable and charming Buck – who was the law in fictional Trinity, South Carolina – was, in reality, a demonic presence with an insatiable need to control everything and everyone in town.
If anyone got in his way, he either killed them himself, used his supernatural powers to force other people to kill them, or caused them to have fatal “accidents”.
Lucas’ deputy, Ben (Nicholas Searcy), was aware of what his boss was doing, but perhaps out of fear, perhaps because he was indebted to the sheriff for his job, he never intervened.
The sheriff’s one weak spot was Caleb (Lucas Black), the young boy who didn’t know Lucas had raped his mother and was, in fact, his father.
To gain custody of the boy, Lucas set out to destroy his family. In the series premiere, on Caleb’s 10th birthday, Lucas broke the neck of Caleb’s older sister Merlyn (Sarah Paulson), arrested Caleb’s father for the murder, and then induced the tortured man to commit suicide in his jail cell.
Facing off against Buck were new town doctor Matt Crower (Jake Weber), and Caleb’s recently returned cousin, newspaper reporter Gail Emory (Paige Turco).
Caleb moved in with Matt at the local boarding house and Gail proceeded to search for incriminating evidence against Lucas for all the strange murders and disappearances that had occurred in Trinity over the years.
Other regulars were Merlyn’s ghost, who appeared in visions to protect and advise her brother; Selena (Brenda Bakke), Caleb’s sexy teacher who was having an affair with Lucas and did favours for him; and Boone (Christopher Fennell), Caleb’s classmate and friend.
Merlyn’s ghost eventually became a powerful and active threat to Lucas’s control and she and Buck had several confrontations, including one where she almost broke his neck in the same way that he had killed her.
By July 1996, Caleb was spending time with the sheriff and learning some of his evil skills, despite Merlyn’s admonitions.
As the series came to a close, Lucas was stabbed and almost died. When he recovered, Merlyn pleaded with him to release Caleb, who was turning into a sick, power-hungry little monster.
Lucas told her the only solution was to kill the boy, but when he attempted to do so, Merlyn gave up her ethereal existence to save her brother after he was thrown from the top of a staircase by the sheriff.
When young Caleb woke up, apparently back to normal, Lucas told him that he would probably never see Merlyn again.
One of the most critically lauded but frighteningly unsuccessful programmes of the 1995/1996 season, American Gothic was a drama whose time ran out almost before it started.
Dark, unfamiliar and launched at a time when viewer disgust over controversial content was all the rage, the series never really stood a chance. The network moved it from Friday nights to Wednesdays
Sheriff Lucas Buck
Dr Matt Crower
Deputy Ben Healy
Dr Billy Peele