Last night was the premiere of American Gods on Starz, a show I’ve been excited about ever since it was announced. It was strange, bloody, and wonderful.
So first off, what is American Gods? Written by Neil Gaiman (Stardust, Good Omens) it was released in 2001. It asks the question ‘What if, when immigrants came to America, they brought all their gods and beliefs with them’? The story digs into American history as a history of immigrants, our belief systems, and the things that have gained our worship in the modern age, such as television. The concrete story follows the experiences of a man named Shadow Moon, who was released from prison a few days early in order to attend his wife’s funeral upon her sudden death. However, on the way home he ends up meeting with an old conman named Mr.Wednesday, who hires him as his personal bodyguard and errand boy. Things spiral out from there, but that’s the main gist. Oh, and through it all, there are gods. It is a strange combination of topics and yet it works.
First, I must admit something. I have not finished the book. It’s taken me two attempts and I’m now half way through the story, but the book has really slow pacing. I think I love the idea of American Gods more than the actual execution.
Which I guess means the show is right up my alley. It’s only one episode in, so I can’t tell if it improves the pacing. I am guessing it won’t, considering there is only one book and there will probably be more than one season. Still, I think I’ll get more enjoyment out of watching American Gods than reading it.
Here are the top 3 reasons I really enjoyed the premiere:
Did you become a fan of Ian McShane in John Wick? Were you a fan before? Well, either way, this show will be candy for you. Because Ian McShane totally shines as Mr.Wednesday, in the same way Robert Downey Jr. shines as Iron Man. That is to say he totally just owns it. One moment he is playing a blubbering old man to con somebody into helping him, the next minute he is suave and swigging drinks while talking philosophy. And it all just works. I cannot wait to watch him act the hell out of this role.
Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) and others also see an improvement by taking a step from paper onto the silver screen. Fans that say they didn’t like Mad Sweeney in the book are now enamored with the charismatic version of him depicted in the show. The protagonist Shadow Moon himself somewhat lacked personality in the book. Things happened to him, and he never had much reaction or seemed to have much agency. Shadow Moon in this version definitely has more emotion, showing pain at the loss of his wife, disbelief and hostility towards the unbelievable, and occasionally some dry wit and even humor with his prison friend Lowkey Lyesmith. All in all there are several improvements already and I can’t wait to see the casting for some other interesting roles.
Updating the Story for a Modern America
I also really like how the story already shows updated reflections upon the America of today. A lot has changed in the 16 years since American Gods was first published, and this show is not ignoring those changes. From small things like airlines now charging ridiculous fees, to major issues like race relations, the show is depicting a more modern take on things. Shadow Moon is a man of minority culture, and it is already clear this is going to be addressed within the show. In prison he is threatened by white supremacists, and while the noose iconography always had meaning in the book, it is given an additional racial layer this time around.
The show also updates their depiction of the modern gods. We’ve only been introduced to the Technology Boy within the pilot, but while in the book he was an overweight, unattractive hacker (Aka a neckbeard) in the tv show he is a slick silicon valley celebrity sort. The kid even vapes. This version of him is immediately more recognizable to the modern era of technology. His henchmen also give off a Slenderman feel that make them extremely unsettling. It is clear the contents of this show are informed by the modern era and benefit from these updates.
Something Tonally Different
I love Game of Thrones, and West World is still probably my favorite new show this year- but there are enough gritty, dark shows out there. This one is as gory as the rest of them, in fact more so, but they’ve hit an almost cartoonish tone (Like one moment when a severed arm in battle flies up, arcs through the air, and breaks into the black letterbox before falling back into the crowd). There’s something more absurd about this show that makes it feel less dreary and more outlandish.
And its refreshing.
There will likely be gritty moments, but this show seems to also be more humorous. The marketing material has certainly been reflecting this tone, and I am looking forward to this new tone for the supernatural shows currently on television.
This show might not be for everybody. It is definitely weird. But it is also fantastical in the best way. For anybody who is a fan of the supernatural or mythology, I highly recommend checking out American Gods on Starz.