New CBS show ‘American Gothic’ debuts Wednesday and offers all sorts of dark corners for summer fun among the violent wealthy

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By the end of its first episode, one of its more notable characters (and actors) is knocked off, just so you know “American Gothic” isn’t kidding around.

Then again, when was the last time a major network had a show with a budding 10-year-old serial killer? And he isn’t even a major character, just a bit of flavor added to the stew.

And “American Gothic,” executive produced by Steven Spielberg, is very much a soapy stew. It centers on the Hawthorne family of Boston. Patriarch Jamey Sheridan, with matriarch Virginia Madsen at his side, has made millions off construction and they live in a lavish mansion.

His offspring — keep up now — Alison (Juliet Rylance), an ambitious city councilwoman who is running for mayor; Cam (Justin Chatwin), a sort-of recovering druggie; Sophie (Stephanie Leonidas), the youngest of the clan, who conveniently has a homicide detective as a husband; and Garrett (Antony Starr), the mysterious eldest son, who has been missing for a decade or so but returns when tragedy strikes.

Everybody’s routine is somewhat interrupted when a slab of concrete falls from a tunnel onto a car. Forget about the unfortunates in the car, it turns out there’s a bell embedded in the concrete that — gasp! — once belonged to the long missing Silver Bells serial killer, an opportunist who apparently closed up shop a decade or so ago, but who, while working, left a solitary silver bell by his victims.

Wouldn’t you know it, when Cam and Sophie are rattling around in a shed behind the mansion they come upon a box filled with silver bells! And newspaper clippings about the killings. Could the killer be one of their privileged brood?

Sure seems likely, but it’s hard to know where this is going, which, of course, is the point. As summertime smarmy yarns go, “American Gothic” holds promise. And watch out for that 10-year-old kid; he may not be a serial killer yet, but ...

Tom Long is a longtime culture critic.

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‘American Gothic’

GRADE: B

10 p.m. Wednesday

CBS

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