This isn’t a show for the masses but it certainly is worth your curiosity. To say that American Gods is akin to Bryan Fuller’s previous work on Hannibal is selling it short only because it’s stylistically similar. Where Hannibal explores the root of humanity and it’s darkest fears, American Gods explores the mythology behind man and what drives our faith in this world. For those of you looking for a show to idly watch while scrolling through your phone or doing your chores, this is not it. This Starz series demands every inch of your focus and attention, blink and you will miss the subtle clues behind the elongated pacing and magnetic dialogue. Every scene, every shot, is weighted with subtext that will leave your mind wandering long after the episode’s end.
American Gods center around a convicted felon named Shadow Moon who is released from prison early due to a tragic circumstance. As he makes his way back home an encounter with the mysterious Mr. Wednesday sets Shadow on a godly path as he discovers the feud between older and younger deities who vie for the attention of the masses. Old world gods such as Bilquis, Anasi, and Easter, who migrated alongside the people who came to America fight to keep themselves relevant as younger gods such as Media and Technical Boy plan to usurp them all. Caught in the middle is Shadow, a man with his own demons and ideologies that he must face in order to survive.
Based on the beloved sci-fi/fantasy by Neil Gaiman, this series dives into the mythology of ancient religions and cultures that most people without a master in anthropology would not immediately recognize. It does help tremendously to have read the source material prior to watching the series as the characters give little information on themselves within the first four episodes. If you are unfamiliar with the Czech Black God, Czernobog, or the African Goddess of Love, Bilquis, then it will be difficult for you understand the context in which the scenes play out. Nevertheless, the scenes are still engaging on their own but I have a strong suspicion that fans of the original novel will be able to pick up on the subtext of each scene with more precision than the average viewer.
In the first four episodes, the hyper-stylized world of Bryan Fuller is fully embraced with deep hues and dark tones that create a highly polished gritty reality. The show does not stray from gore but it is done purposefully, blending authentic and conventionalized effects to make it palatable. The same can be said for their sexual scenes as it merges into surrealistic imagery that show the audience a higher plane of pleasurable existence. With the Goddess Bilquis consuming her sexual partners through her uterus, it’s easy to understand the otherworldly elements of the story through the visualization of Fuller and Michael Green, (known for Gotham and Everwood).
And that’s where the series is at its best, the realization of this world. The daunting visuals mixed with the delicate soundtrack composed mostly of the cello and violin makes this series worth the watch. The audience is taken on a visual wonderland that blends reality and fantasy in ways that are unconventional and intriguing. The story itself, while interesting, I would say does not hold up on its own without the world that is created around it. The main character of Shadow, just in the first four episodes, is not fully realized, and rather than feelings like a hero within his own journey, he seems to just go along with the schemes of the Gods with no real purpose. Emily Browning plays Laura Moon, Shadow’s wife, and the fourth episode is dedicated entirely to her miserable existence. Browning pulls off this unlikable character well, almost to the point of sympathetic, but as an episode that lacks the stunning visuals like the other three, this was a clear indication that the effects drive the story.
For fans of the Neil Gaiman 600 page novel, this show is a faithful adaptation with only minor changes to move it forward into this century. Technical Boy, played by Bruce Langley, was cast very differently than his original representation but it works for our modern times. I am curious to see the more modern Gods as the series progresses as they are relevant to our current political state, but it’s interesting to see the Old Gods as they prepare for their siege against the young. I walked into this series with different expectations, and while it was not what I had expected it was a fascinating journey into the American mythos with a stellar cast of actors. Ian McShane plays Mr. Wednesday with incredible flair as if he was always meant to be this character, and Pablo Schreiber, (known for Orange is the New Black) was a surprising choice for Mad Sweeney, a self-ascribed leprechaun who gets down on his luck.
If you are a fan of the original material or a fan of world religion and culture, then this series is worth your adulation. For the rest of us, it’s a curious look into the American dream as told by immigrant Gods, and a stunning buffet of the senses.
American Gods premieres on Starz at 9 p.m. ET on April 30.