Botched release of cult favorite by Gord Lacey (All reviews)
Visit Trinity, South Carolina, a small town with more chills than charm. Sheriff Lucas Buck (Gary Cole) won't let anyone - including local doctor Matt Crower (Jake Weber) or the determined Gail Emory (Paige Turco) - stand in the way of his evil plans.
American Gothic was a dark drama from Shaun Cassidy; yup, "Joe" from The Hardy Boys! The show premiered in the fall of 1995, and went into hiatus in the January, only to return in July to burn up 6 episodes, leaving 4 unaired in the initial run. The show picked up fans during the initial airings, and their numbers grew when Sci-Fi picked up the show a few years later (and broadcast the unaired episodes). Fans have been trying to get the series on DVD for years, so the news that it was coming quickly spread through the 'net.
I watched the show when it initially aired, and I loved it. I liked Gary Cole from Night Caller, and he was the freakiest dude on television when this show was on the air. So nice and calm, and then he would snap and you could see the evil in his eyes. Yikes, I'm getting a chill just thinking about it. Lucas Black (Caleb) was excellent, and while he had a slow period during his teen years he's been busy shooting movies lately, including The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.
Universal has released this set in an attractive case featuring red metallic-embossed lettering, a matte finish, and some gloss over the photo. Universal is one of the few companies that tries to do something cool for their TV packages. The 3 double-sided discs can be found in 3 slim cases inside the outer box, and they hold all 22 episodes.
Here's a look at the discs, and the episodes on them:
Disc 1, Side A (2:20:19)
A Tree Grows in Trinity (46:37)
Eye of the Beholder (46:54)
Disc 1, Side B (3:01:25)
Damned If You Don't (45:58)
Dead to the World (45:17)
Meet the Beetles (45:53)
Strong Arm of the Law (44:17)
Disc 2, Side A (3:02:27)
The Plague Sower (45:56)
Disc 2, Side B (3:00:28)
Doctor Death Takes a Holiday (45:32)
The Beast Within (44:35)
To Hell and Back (44:33)
Learning to Crawl (45:48)
Disc 3, Side A (3:00:35)
The Buck Stops Here (44:26)
Potato Boy (44:55)
Disc 3, Side B (2:16:16)
Ring of Fire (46:02)
Echo of Your Last Goodbye (46:03)
American Gothic is presented in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The picture is dark, and dull, but that's done intentionally by the director of photography; it's not too dark that you miss details. There's a bit more noise in the image than I prefer; it's not horrible, but it's noticeable in some scenes. There's a chapter after the opening of the show, and there's a "play all" option on each side of the disc.
Universal's defective DVD-18s spoiled my enjoyment of some of these episodes. The disc would freeze, sputter, play, freeze, play, freeze, then play the rest of the episode. There were three episodes that I had problems with:
Meet the Beetles (episode 3, Disc 1, Side B)
Inhumanitas (episode 3, Disc 2, Side A)
To Hell and Back (episode 3, Disc 2, Side B)
Notice anything there? Yup, they're all "episode 3" on the disc (or side), which would be placed on the outer edge of the second layer. I'm sick of bitching about defective discs, but I assure you consumers are sick of buying these things and exchanging them at the store for something that works. It's painfully clear that there's a high failure rate for DVD-18s.
Universal has messed up the audio on one of their releases again, but thankfully it's just on the packaging. They have a habit of listing a Dolby Surround audio track as Mono on the package; I have no idea why. This is a great Surround track too; the spooky sounds are even spookier when you feel as though you're surrounded by them. The dialog sounds fine, the music is good (and there's no mention of music substitution). There are English and Spanish subtitles.
Deleted Scenes (22:18)
There are deleted scenes for 9 episodes:
Doctor Death Takes a Holiday (0:52)
To Hell and Back (2:38)
Learning to Crawl (1:42)
The Buck Stops Here (1:53)
Ring of Fire (3:01)
Echo of Your Last Goodbye (6:26)
Shaun Cassidy (creator/writer/producer) and David Eick (producer) provide a rather funny, and somewhat informative commentary track. No mention of this track was made in material sent out to press, though we had someone at Universal tell us it was on the set.
Universal is the only company I know of that can both excite and upset fans by releasing a show on DVD. Universal isn't known for putting bonus material on their sets, so a commentary track by Shaun Cassidy and David Eick is almost unheard of, and it impressed me. I think they did a nice job on the packaging; the foil and embossing are a nice touch. However, and you knew this was coming, they really, truly fucked this set up.
CBS aired the show out of order, and it made no sense if you watched it week to week. Anyone that watched the show could tell you this because it was so obvious, and confusing for the viewer. If you've never seen this show before then the following information contains spoilers and should be ignored. [Spoilers]: Dr. Crower left the show in "Doctor Death Takes a Holiday" after attempting to kill Sheriff Buck, so how the hell does he appear in the next episode?[/Spoilers] The answer: this wasn't the intended order of the episodes! Anyone can spend 15 minutes searching Google to find the correct episode order (check this site: http://www.garycole.net/tv/ag/epguide.html), and almost any fan site mentions the episodes aired out of order. Possibly the best resource is Shaun Cassidy, the creator/executive producer of the show. Sometimes though people can be difficult to track down, unless you already have them booked to a commentary track. Cassidy even talks about the series wrapping up in the last two episodes, but those aren't the last two episodes on the DVD set. Here's the proper order to watch the episodes, including the disc number, side and episode number on the disc, with spaces between disc swaps:
Pilot (Disc 1, Side A, Episode 1)
A Tree Grows in Trinity (Disc 1, Side A, Episode 2)
Eye of the Beholder (Disc 1, Side A, Episode 3)
Damned If You Don't (Disc 1, Side B, Episode 1)
Potato Boy (Disc 3, Side A, Episode 4)
Dead to the World (Disc 1, Side B, Episode 2)
Meet the Beetles (Disc 1, Side B, Episode 3)
Strong Arm of the Law (Disc 1, Side B, Episode 4)
To Hell and Back (Disc 2, Side B, Episode 3)
The Beast Within (Disc 2, Side B, Episode 2)
Rebirth (Disc 2, Side A, Episode 1)
Ring of Fire (Disc 3, Side B, Episode 1)
Resurrector (Disc 2, Side A, Episode 2)
Inhumanitas (Disc 2, Side A, Episode 3)
The Plague Sower (Disc 2, Side A, Episode 4)
Doctor Death Takes a Holiday (Disc 2, Side B, Episode 1)
Learning to Crawl (Disc 2, Side B, Episode 4)
Echo of Your Last Goodbye (Disc 3, Side B, Episode 2)
Strangler (Disc 3, Side B, Episode 3)
Triangle (Disc 3, Side A, Episode 1)
The Buck Stops Here (Disc 3, Side A, Episode 2)
Requiem (Disc 3, Side A, Episode 3)
You'll have to jump between the discs a bunch, but you have to do it if you want the show to flow properly.
Universal's flawed DVD-18s will add to the headaches of consumers when the disc starts to skip around. Hey, maybe you'll get lucky and get a "good" set (it's sad that you have to hope your disc will play, isn't it?).
Universal could easily turn their releases around. Step 1) Ditch the DVD-18s. Consumers complain about them because they don't contain artwork and can easily scratch, but the biggest problem is that they're failing, and that's unacceptable. Step 2) Since you've ditched the DVD-18s, just switch to the double-slim cases that Fox uses and your sets will take up the same amount of shelf space as they do now. Step 3) Contact some fans of a show; it's amazing what they'll be able to tell you! You could have put the episodes in the proper order and improved the release of the set. Three easy steps and the releases would be drastically improved.
I really hate writing reviews like this. I hope the studio can take this as constructive criticism, and not look at it as whining. Had this release been on DVD-9s and in the proper order then I would be writing about how I was impressed they included a commentary for the pilot. I really, really want to help Universal turn their releases around. I think they have some great product that is overshadowed by recurring production issues.