Starring: Ricky Whittle, Emily Browning, Ian McShane, Crispin Glover, Bruce Langley, Gillian Anderson, Pablo Schreiber, Yetide Badaki.
Plot: Repentant convict Shadow Moon has been released from prison to find his wife dead and his prospects on the outside world severely limited, that is until he happens upon the enigmatic Mr Wednesday who offers Shadow employment. Soon Shadow is thrust into an America where gods old & new engage in a conflict for supremacy.
I haven’t read American Gods, there, I’ve said it and as a consequence went into the first Season of the Brian Fuller led American Gods TV show pretty much blind. I knew some things, that is was written by the incomparable talent that is Neil Gaiman, that it told a story of gods living amongst men in modern America and that I was immediately enticed by this prospect along with the sterling word of mouth from friends of mine that were fans of the book and had already seen the show, they weren’t exaggerating.
Weaving an intricately mapped story of conflict between old & new gods in contemporary America, American Gods is a concept tailor made for a structured TV serialisation. Take one look at the thick tome it is adapted from and you’ll see there was no other way to go in respect to format without dropping facets of the story and risking narrative cohesion. People I know who have read the book have corroborated that American Gods is a story so richly and intricately woven that to weed away the story to suit a framework that didn’t fit it would have been a huge disservice, so to see it get the full Brian Fuller backed TV treatment is a move that long term fans and like me, the erstwhile newcomer with no prior knowledge, will certainly appreciate. American Gods is certainly a show that respects its audiences intelligence, it doesn’t pander to them or dumb down its source material to make it more palatable. Neil Gaiman is a verbose writer of great imagination & intellect which reflects in his work, the brilliant Neverwhere was a book that placed an entire world beneath the streets of London, fully realised and full of complex characters and narrative, American Gods even more so from what I am reliably told and it certainly translated that way in the TV show.
In American Gods the audience has to do a lot of the groundwork to get the truest sense of what’s gong on in the narrative of the show, who the old gods are and what the new gods represent. The new gods I feel are slightly less ambiguous, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why the goddess Media only appears as in the guise of icons of stage & screen, that Mr World is an allegory for globalisation or why Technical Boy resides in a matrix-like cyberworld, locking down the old gods however certainly requires a bit more knowledge on the viewers part. I had heard the name Mad Sweeney before, I knew that Bilquis was the Queen Of Sheba and I think most people will have cottoned on as to who Mr Wednesday actually is before the reveal, a modicum of prior knowledge of certain folklores and mythologies will help you pick out a few but certainly not all of them but if you can, have a cream bun and a gold star on me.
American Gods is yet another show with an incredibly strong ensemble cast. People this side of the pond may recognise Ricky Whittle who plays Shadow Moon from godawful UK soap opera Hollyoaks, he certainly has traded up here delivering a strong and likeable lead performance despite the characters many flaws, the same can be said of Emily Browning as his wife Laura, a sympathetic portrayal of a depressed and alienated spouse and later dead pan delivery of an increasingly absurd and amusing situation after her resurrection. Ian McShane brings his usual magnetic charm and acerbic delivery to the role of Mr Wednesday and some fun support from his fellow gods, Pablo Schreiber seemingly having a ball as Mad Sweeney, Gillian Anderson playing dress up and giving a scarily good Bowie impression as Media and the gloriously oddball Crispin Glover chews the scenery with gusto as Mr World.
American Gods is high on my list of must see TV shows this year. It was original, captivating, funny, unabashedly provocative, not afraid to take creative gambits such as an animated introduction in one episode and a luscious episode long period backstory in another. It doesn’t pander to it viewers and relies on them joining the dots so to speak but is in all a massively addictive watch. With just 8 episodes in this first season it’s highly likely you will binge watch once you start it and with the knowledge that Season 2 has just been greenlit, you’ll be chomping at the bit for more.
American Gods Season 1 is currently available to stream via Amazon.