American Gothic (1995) s01e06 – Potato Boy

CBS didn’t air Potato Boy during “American Gothic”’s original run. It started the network shuffling the show order in earnest, presumably to make the show more accessible to new viewers. Since it’s television—network television—they somehow managed to skip a literal onboarding episode. Gary Cole narrates Potato Boy’s first act, clueing the viewers in on the ground situation. The episode deep dives into two and a half characters in addition to the youthful (“Gothic”) adventures of recently orphaned Lucas Black. It’s an awesome done-in-one.

Of course, the network screwed it up.

Michael Nankin gets the writing credit and directs; Nankin’s the best direction on a “Gothic” episode so far. He likes watching the actors, which is essential given the character examination aspect of the episode, but also as a contrast for Cole. Everyone else feels, and we see them feel; Cole’s like a lizard. He’s calm, motionless, then he acts. And he’s trying to pass those lessons on to Black.

Their arc in this episode’s disturbing. Black seems closer to drinking the dark side Kool-Aid than ever; whenever he gets this close to Cole, Sarah Paulson usually shows up, but she’s got an offscreen subplot involving the title character.

The Potato Boy is an urban legend amongst the youth of Trinity proper. Being raised in the country, Black isn’t informed—his pals, Christopher Fennell and Evan Rachel Wood, have to warn him about the mutant child who does nothing but sing hymns from his attic cell. Ghostly sister Paulson visits Black and becomes enchanted with the singing and disappointed in her apathetic brother. Paulson comes back a few times in the episode, but she’s off having the supernatural adventure of the episode, which they haven’t got the budget for.

Black also bonds with reverend John Bennes after legal guardian Tina Lifford takes Black to church for the first time. Bennes figures into Black’s A-plot and Brenda Bakke’s B-plot. Bakke and Searcy alternate the B-plots. The episode does a complex examination of Bakke, subtly and not; it’s a fantastic episode for her, easily her best, but also the best female part on “Gothic” so far. Meanwhile, Searcy’s in therapy, except he can’t talk too much about the details of his working relationship with Cole. Searcy’s phenomenal.

What with covering up Cole murdering Paulson and all.

Then Jake Weber’s got a C-plot, which also ties into Black’s plot and Bennes’s church. Nankin gets some great acting out of Weber too.

Heck of a lot of great performances this episode—Black, Bakke, Searcy, Paulson, Weber, and, of course, Cole (who’s so good narrating even though the narration’s too much and not enough you miss it once it’s gone). “American Gothic”’s a very special show and Potato Boy’s its most successful episode.

Obviously, CBS bumped it.

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