American Gods is the latest adaptation of a Neil Gaiman novel – a writer known for giving the fantasy genre a modern twist and it is one of the most anticipated TV shows of 2017.
Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) is a hustler and con-artist who’s about to be released from prison when he receives the news that his wife (Emily Browning) died in car accident. Desperate to make it to his wife’s funeral he meets a strange man – Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) who offers Shadow a job – an offer that unexpectedly leads Shadow into the world of fantasy.
American Gods was a highly sought after property – HBO was attached to adapt the book before Fremantle Media acquired the rights and produced it with the American broadcaster Starz. The show is being streamed on Amazon Prime outside the US.
The opening episode had a lot of pedigree behind it: showrunners Bryan Fuller (Hannibal) and Michael Green (Logan) wrote the teleplay and David Slade, best known for the films Hard Candy and 30 Days of Night, directed the first three episodes.
The opening episode had left a striking impression showing a group of Vikings landing on a beach and praying to Odin – the God of War – to save them; which fans of the History Channel’s Vikings will appreciate – to the ending with a scene that borrows visuals from the Stanley Kubrick classic A Clockwork Orange. It is a visually dazzling piece of television.
American Gods was unafraid of violence. It was brief but visceral when shown – having to remove an eyeball each with a white hot blade before having to fight to appease Odin – a bar fight where blood gushes out the participants’ mouths and the final sequence where Shadow has to fight the droog impersonators. There was also a bizarre sex scene where a goddess demands to be worshipped by a man she seduces. Well, this is a Starz show after all.
The idea behind American Gods is to mix various ancient mythologies and transplant them to modern America. Two classes of Gods have formed – old gods like Odin and the Queen of Sheba and modern ones who are the gods of things like technology and globalisation.
The first episode was seen mostly through Shadow’s eye – an ordinary man brought into the world of modern fantasy. It is a way for people who haven’t read the novel to get accustomed to the world and in the same situation as Shadow.
The inclusion of modern gods gives the series a sci-fi edge – amplified by the character Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) who abducts Shadow to question him about Mr. Wednesday. This god lures Shadow with a high-tech version of a facehugger and essentially takes the man to his spaceship.
This move into sci-fi would be considered a surreal turn for most shows – it ends up being a part of the course for American Gods that already had dream sequences where Shadow sees his wife before she dies and one featuring a talking wolf. Slade is one of television’s most in-demand directors – working on shows like Hannibal, Powers and Breaking Bad and is set to direct an episode of Black Mirror and his talents were put to use for this sequences – using passionate reds for the sex scene and sleek silver in Technical Boy’s home.
American Gods has a strong cast and the first episode only shows a fraction of who’s set to appear. Ricky Whittle has come a long way from his roles in Dream Team and Hollyoaks and he is able to go to toe-to-toe with Ian McShane as a successful con-artist. Bruce Langley also impressed in his role as Technical Boy – acting like an entitled millennial and easy to dislike. This is Langley’s first major role and it is quite an achievement for the young British actor.
Emily Browning is a big star and she is listed as a main cast member, but seeing that her character dies early on in the series Browning’s role will be limited to flashbacks and dream sequence and maybe see the character resurrected in some way.
American Gods had an intriguing first episode that sets up a modern take on classic mythology and visually dazzling. It looks like the start of a promising dark, modern fantasy series.