Review: In adapting Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, Bryan Fuller (Hannibal) and Michael Green (Logan), take Gaiman’s vision—for a divine story about immigrants and gods in a land of no god—into a whole new level of occultism. While retaining the novel’s tongue-in-cheek philosophical relevance, the show combines it with current real-world issue—about religion and humanity—and revises the author’s neglects towards minor storylines with a more engaging, intertwined ‘war of gods’ epic.
Same as the novel, American Gods centers on Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), a purposeless ex-convict whose wife (Emily Browning) is killed on a car accident a few moment before his release. Upon his despair, Shadow encounters a man-god who calls himself, Wednesday (Ian McShane) and gets recruited as a henchman in war between the Old Gods (Wednesday and comrades) and the New Gods of media, technology et al. Once hired, series of enigmatic events and bands of obscure characters appears, rendering Shadow (and audience’s, too) baffled and puzzled. Yet, as Wednesday said, there’s only one rule among others: Shadow is not paid for asking questions.
Shadow’s involvement to Wednesday’s cause is American Gods main storyline, which is handled in similar fashion as the novel. Shadow and Wednesday roam across America recruiting Old Gods to prepare for the final showdown. This quest juxtaposes with some ‘Coming to America’ segments—detailing how people came to America in the past bringing their gods along, hence the thought-form manifestations—on their own tracks. In the adaptation, how the main plot and subplots are presented sees a showcase of prowess, which makes both storylines more alluring.
Fuller & Green’s American Gods gives these ‘Coming to America’ segments a more pivotal role when intersecting with the main storyline. In the novel, some of the stories are only referenced in Shadow’s arc; however, this adaptation sees them as either introduction to other pivotal characters and some bridges for a new secondary storyline developed for the show to directly link into the main one. Even, they give these segments narrators from the main plots, i.e., Mr. Jacques (Chris Obi) and Mr. Ibis (Demore Barnes) as well as the eccentric spider-man, Mr. Nancy (Orland Jones). To top it all, this show also gives bigger spotlight to Laura Moon and the stand-tall leprechaun, Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber).
The first season of American Gods is indeed a courageous breakthrough, another giant leap for Bryan Fuller to break trauma over Hannibal’s cancellation. It takes as many obscure methods as possible to highlight the occult taste of the story—from the nightmarish visual spectacles full of symbolisms and clues only visible to keen eyes (and/or readers’ eyes) as projected in the opening title to tongue-in-cheek philosophical dialogues. The whole season is a big gamble, which might feel alienating for those unfamiliar with the source; but, indeed, it works like a pretentious fresco in some religious site. You might get amazed because it’s beautiful, but you won’t bear long enjoying its philosophy unless there’s a guide for you.
With all these, American Gods should’ve put a big warning upfront saying: “NOT FOR THOSE WHO EXPECT SET-PIECES or ACTION” as the premise might suggest. Similar to the book, the first season presents more set-ups than actions, more direct fantasy manifestations than outright philosophy-heavy discourse. Yet, if the set-ups are that astonishing, who doesn’t want to indulge in? That’s faith.
American Gods (2017) – Season 1
Fantasy, Mystery Created by: Bryan Fuller, Michael Green based on a novel by Neil Gaiman Starred by: Ricky Whittle, Emily Browning, Ian McShane Network: STARZ, Amazon Prime No. of Episodes: 8 Running Time: 60 mins