This season, you can have what amounts to a supernatural sandwich every Friday night. Fox’s X-Files is the meaty filling at 9 p.m.; it’s flanked by Strange Luck (Fox, Fridays, 8-9 p.m.) and American Gothic (CBS, Fridays, 10-11 p.m.).
In Strange Luck, D.B. Sweeney wears a wrinkled trench coat and a hangdog expression as Chance Harper, a newspaper photojournalist who can literally do no wrong: Thirty years ago, when he was just a tot, he was the only survivor of a plane crash. Ever since then, his life has been a series of coincidences — wherever he goes, he meets up with people down on their luck, and his good fortune rubs off on them. The premise is vague yet just intriguing enough to make the show compelling, even though it constantly verges on silly cuteness. In a recent episode, for instance, Chance tried to save an innocent man from being executed for murder. The murder weapon that would prove the prisoner’s innocence had been hidden for years inside the door of an old taxicab…and — wouldn’t you know it — Chance just had a fender-bumper with an old yellow cab that very day!
Sweeney is more grumpy than heroic, and he spends entirely too much time at the Blue Plate Cafe trading cliches with a world-weary waitress played by Frances Fisher (Unforgiven). In one early episode, Fisher actually said, ”There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” Pam Gidley, dolled up to look like a Veronica Lake wannabe, is around as the photo editor of Chance’s paper. Neither Fisher nor Gidley seems at all surprised by the hero’s ongoing run of strange luck.
A similarly improbable unawareness infects American Gothic, in which Gary Cole plays Lucas Buck, sheriff of Trinity, S.C. Buck is a bully who might also be Satan. He murders and blackmails people, and when the words ”Someone is at the door” suddenly appear, written in blood on a wall, the someone turns out to be Buck, bursting in to wreak havoc with a devilish grin. In this show, created by Shaun Cassidy, we’re supposed to believe that the vast majority of the small-town population thinks Buck is just a dandy fellow; only outsiders, such as a reporter played by Paige Turco, and the victims of Buck’s wrath, such as a small boy played by Lucas Black, suspect the sheriff of wrongdoing. At this point, it looks as if a primary plot will be Buck’s pursuit of the boy, whom he wants to adopt for, um, God knows what reasons.
Cole is good — he never overdoes a florid role. And Black is even better — a fine child actor capable of conveying difficult emotions like shame and scorn. But the show itself is just Twin Peaks without conviction — lots of ominous music in the background, lots of toned-down horror-movie effects in the foreground. Consume this supernatural sandwich and you’re liable to end up thinking you should have thrown away the bread. Strange Luck: C+ American Gothic: C