American Gods is an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s classic fantasy novel of the same name revolving around the struggle between the new gods of America and the old. We are brought into this world through Shadow Moon; a convict who is released early after his wife dies and enters the employ of the mysterious Mr. Wednesday.
The show is being run Bryan Fuller, who previously worked on Hannibal, as well as Michael Green. The Hannibal connection is apparent nearly from the off thanks to the beautiful and striking way of showing violence. Whilst not quite as out there as some of the later parts of Hannibal, there is an artistry to American Gods that there probably had to be in order to make this story work. A lot of the imagery in the book is very bizarre, but somehow they successfully managed to make it work visually. There are sequences based around technological abductions, a tree attacking people, oh and a woman absorbs people through her vagina.
One thing that Fuller and Green got absolutely spot on was the casting. Ricky Whittle as Shadow is the rather stoic hero, and does a brilliant job in representing our dive into this fantastical world of gods as the audience. Emily Browning as Laura Moon takes what could be an unlikable character and makes her so much more. Actors like Pablo Schreiber and Orlando Jones mean that parts such as Mad Sweeney and Mr. Nancy that are given more to do in this adaptation feel like wonderful expansions on the story. The new gods too are fantastic; Crispin Glover, Gillian Anderson, and Bruce Langley all succeed in making them feel ethereal and yet modern, and also very threatening. But the star of the show is Ian McShane as Wednesday. As soon as the casting was announced people were excited, and rightly so. He commands the screen with his presence in every scene he’s in, and has wonderful chemistry with Whittle. He makes Wednesday such an enigmatic character that you cannot help but watch.
Fans of the book will notice that the show isn’t completely wed to Gaiman’s original story, but instead begins to expand upon it. The first series doesn’t quite make it through to The House on the Rock, but we do see it mentioned meaning that it may well be the opening to the second season. What really makes the series stand out is how beautiful and powerful the small vignettes in a lot of the episodes are. Sequences like Anansi on the slave ship in episode 2 or the Djinn in episode 3 could easily just be viewed as their own short films, and you’d be happy if the characters weren’t expanded on. That’s not to say that the expansion of these characters isn’t great, but the vignettes could easily stand on their own.
What is ridiculous is that the story and the social commentary in it has only grown more relevant in the 16 years since the novel was published. The show has so much to say on big topics such as religion, technology, the modern world, and immigration. The current political climate, particularly in the last year or so, with so much debate about immigration has lent itself to the show incredibly well. The theme of coming to America is extremely prevalent in the show, and is indeed the main focus of many of the vignettes. The new gods are all based around modern aspects of the world, especially technology and the media, and the way that this contrasts with the old world of the the gods is one of the most fascinating aspects of the American Gods.
American Gods is certainly a fitting start to adapting Gaiman’s work. The show won’t be for everyone thanks to a lot of extremely graphic violence and sexual content, but it is so wonderfully unique and bizarre. If you can buy into it then American Gods is such a rewarding experience and may well be your new obsession. This is one of the best new shows in years.