In our first impressions piece of American Gods we examined why this show even in its first episode had the makings of being one of the hot new television series for 2017. Adapted from the Neil Gaiman book of the same name, helmed by showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green and starring a ridiculously talented ensemble cast, the show had all the hype at the end of 2016. Thankfully the first season has been able to live up to that and bring us an imaginative, challenging and visually beautiful series to watch.
We’re first introduced to Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) released early from prison when his wife Laura Moon (Emily Browning) passes away unexpectedly. On his way to her funeral he meets Mr Wednesday (Ian McShane) and is given a job offer as Wednesday’s muscle/errand boy. They then set out on a road trip across the American countryside in search of Wednesday’s associates. What Shadow is unaware of, is that he has stumbled into a battle between the Old Gods of mythology and religion and the New Gods of media and technology.
Where Fuller and Green have succeeded is in taking Gaiman’s original work and expanding upon the story and characters. The book is predominantly from Shadow’s point of view, and he is our entrance into this world. However we get to see more from characters like Laura and the unusually tall leprechaun Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) where their journey crosses paths with or connects to Shadow’s. The expansion of their stories, as well as the inclusion of the ‘Coming To America’ vignettes helps to add character depth and exposition and gives the series an other-worldly feeling whilst taking us on this slow journey as Shadow and Mr Wednesday make their way to Wisconsin.
Gaiman’s book along with the show takes concepts of religion, myth, faith and belief and conceptualises it into a story of one man’s journey into discovering truth and conviction. The show has also become a hot topic of political discussion with a variety of episodes that hit hard. There was Mr Nancy’s (Orlando Jones) opening monologue about racism towards African-Americans in Episode 2 “The Secret Of Spoons”. The gay Muslim sex scene between Salim (Omid Abtahi) and The Jinn (Mousa Kraish) in Episode 3 “Head Full Of Snow”. Or the town of Vulcan obsessed with gun control in Episode 6’s “A Murder Of Gods”. Or the manipulation and marginalization of feminine power in Episode 8 (and season finale) “Come To Jesus”. And constantly throughout is the theme of immigration as the Old Gods make their way to the New World and find themselves trying to make their way in the land of the free.
This show refuses to back down from a fight and neither does its characters. Those include the cunning, manipulative and mysterious Mr Wednesday, portrayed by Ian McShane. The fierce and fiery Laura who comes back from the dead and the trickster God Mr Nancy who can shift into a spider. The Goddess of love Bilquis, Yetide Badaki, whose survival relies on consuming her worshippers via sex. The petulant, snarky and constantly evolving Technical Boy, played by Bruce Langley who gets to wear a different outfit and look in every scene he’s in as a reflection of constantly updating technology. A delicious Media who occupies the forms of Lucille Ball or David Bowie or Marilyn Monroe played by the gorgeous Gillian Anderson. Or the enigmatic Mr World by Crispin Glover, one of the few who can rival Mr Wednesday preferring to tread carefully against the old God.
For those who are aware of Fuller’s style from his work on Hannibal , you will see many similarities here. Clever use of slow motion camera shots turn enormous sprays of blood into something beautiful and artful. The show may touch on dark themes and concepts but juxtaposes this with large swathes of colour. Darran Tiernan, Jo Willems and Aaron Morton provide the cinematography across this season and it marries up beautifully with the score and music composed by Brian Reitzell (who also happened to work on Hannibal). It’s so hard to adequately describe the seemingly ethereal quality of this show as it blends controversial political topics, with gorgeous cinematography and visual effects and accompanied by a symphonic musical scoring. This is wonderfully unique and groundbreaking television that insists on going against the grain of conformist and mainstream media and utterly revels in its weirdness.
With American Gods having been confirmed for a Season Two, we can at least rest easy that we will get to see more from Shadow, Mr Wednesday and their Godly cohorts. Readers of the book will already be aware of the overall story and where it plans on going. But for those of us who haven’t read the book, we get to enjoy the scenic route away from highways and allow the journey to take us on a challenging trip into a psychological world of dogma and doctrine.
Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
American Gods Season One, all eight episodes, is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.