American Gods is the first series or film based on a book where I have actually read the book in question long before seeing it. Sadly, I remember the book being quite slow and a struggle to bother with in parts, and this TV series seems to be a really faithful adaptation of the book… Still, it does have some amazing special effects and scenes, plus plenty of great dialogue and characters, sadly mixed with a lot of (mostly) unnecessary “shocking” moments. It’s quite the variety show, that’s for sure!
In 813 A.D., a Viking ship reaches the shores of North America, where unseen indigenous people force them to retreat by firing a barrage of arrows. The Vikings make several blood sacrifices to Odin; eventually they find a wind to sail home on. In the present, Shadow Moon is released a few days early from prison after his wife, Laura, dies in a car accident. On the flight home, Shadow meets Wednesday, who offers him a job as a bodyguard…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Cast of Characters:
A fateful encounter!
Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) – A regular ex-con who ends up in the battle between old Gods and new when he teams up with Mr. Wednesday, and that’s not even mentioning his dead wife that’s following him around…
Mr. Wednesday / Odin (Ian McShane) – One of the more powerful Old Gods who is trying to rally his fellow near-forgotten deities into a war with the ever powerful New Gods.
Laura Moon (Emily Browning) – Shadow’s unfaithful and … well, not very pleasant wife who died in a car crash… while being busy with Shadow’s friend while he drove. Anyway, she comes back from the dead as a revenant, albeit one whose body is naturally decaying still, and hopes to patch things up with Shadow and/or come back to life.
Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) – A leprechaun who is under the employ of Mr. Wednesday. He accidentally gives his lucky coin to Shadow, who then accidentally uses it to bring his wife back to life, leaving Sweeney without his luck unless he can grab it back from the super-powered dead wife’s stomach…
Mr. World (Crispin Glover) – The leader of the New Gods, representing globalisation. Extremely powerful due to his ability to control information.
Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) – The New God of technology, he’s a complete prick with no respect for the ways of old, though if pushed to do so could use his power over the internet to give Old Gods new life…
Media (Gillian Anderson) – The New God of media (unsurprisingly), she has the power to influence the masses who worship the screens rather than any God. Likes to appear in the guise of past and present celebrities.
Bilquis (Yetide Badaki) – An Old Goddess of Love who sold herself to the New Gods in order to continue to live. She … *ahem*, absorbs people through her private parts during sex in order to sustain herself.
Plus many more!
The Bone Orchard, one of the many amazing sights in the series.
There is a lot to like about American Gods. For starters, the concept of Gods walking around America, losing their powers as more and more people forget them, having to face up to the new items of worship having the power is a great one, and the sole reason I got the book. When you actually get a scene with Shadow and Wednesday, or Laura Moon and Mad Sweeney, or the Old Gods facing the New Gods, it’s great, with often brilliant dialogue or really funny interactions. Every member of the main, or even guest cast are perfect for the roles, I feel like I got extremely lucky for my first book adaptation because everyone looks and sounds pretty much how I pictured them (though my memory is of Shadow being far more reserved and sarcastic, but the more realistic depiction of what someone would be like going through these events makes more sense anyway…)
Some of the Old Gods who only made single appearances (so far!) are worth singling out here, as they didn’t get a character “bio”. Czernobog and the Zorya Sisters were hilarious and pleasant, respectively, which is good because the former’s game of checkers with Shadow is one of the scenes from the book that still stuck in my head, so it was great to see it. Chris Obi as Anubis was perfect in every one of his scenes, and the same can be said for Orlando Jones as Mr. Nancy (a.k.a. the Ghanaian trickster god Anansi) and Kristin Chenoweth as Easter.
Episode 4 has a bunch of new material, focusing on Laura’s backstory and how she came to know Shadow and generally making her a more interesting character, though not much more likable (not that she is supposed to be, anyway). It was a good addition, one that actually added, rather than just padded out the story.
Although I had a problem with a lot of the extra scenes and pretty much every episode having unnecessary nudity and/or sex in it, the Bilquis man-eating vaj scene (screw it, no need to dance around with my words…) and the eventual gay sex scene between disillusioned salesman Salim and a Jinn who works as a taxi driver are two scenes that stuck in my head from the book and were handled well, for shock value and surprisingly gentle and artistic, character driven-ness respectively.
Some of the scenes were a real visual treat. The scenes where Shadow dreams of the bone orchard and sees the flaming-eyed bull (whose name escapes me) and the segment with Anubis taking a woman to the afterlife seamlessly from her apartment to a star-filled desert was breathtaking. It’s amazing what a TV budget can do nowadays.
His job is to be an annoying prick, and he does it so well!
This feels like the first season of Game of Thrones, in that the writers seem to think that having a show on a cult-y network that has no censorship rules means you have to go bonkers with the violence, swearing and sex. Yes, there is plenty of the first two in the book, and a decent amount of the third, but there were several scenes where I just knew it was in because they could, not because they should.
Some of the cut-away scenes, much like the book, just weren’t interesting, but dragged on so long you become impatient wanting to know what happens next with the lead cast. I remember in the book a story focusing on an Irish lady going on far too long, and sure enough that appears here and takes up nearly the entirety of Episode 7!
The TV show creators (with Neil Gaiman’s blessing) added a new scene with Mr. Wednesday and Shadow visiting Vulcan, who has built a town into a cult who worships guns that have bullets with “Vulcan” on them, meaning they grant him power. He also routinely sacrifices someone into his “volcano”, or large smelting pot, by way of a faulty guard rail, which the whole town seemingly knows about is okay with. This whole thing seemed out of place, and not because it wasn’t in the book, but the whole thing is that Gods walk among us and don’t stand out, yet this stood out like a saw thumb! How would this not be major news in the area, everyone was walking around with a big red V arm sleeve for crying out loud! It just felt at odds with how the Gods, both old and new, are presented.
“I’m siiinging in the rain…”
A faithful adaptation so far (we’re about a third into the book…), but that’s not actually a good thing. I was expecting the TV show to trim the story down into a more focused narrative, but instead the pace is just as slow as the book, if not more so when you watch it a week at a time (something you can now avoid, obviously). Still, when American Gods gets it right, boy to they nail it. Some truly spectacular scenes that made me properly appreciate having a HD TV. A mixed bag, but an occasionally brilliant one. A hard one to judge because some scenes I’d love to watch again, but I doubt I’ll watch the season as a whole again…