Starz has been consistently upping its pedigree in regards to original programming, and their latest offering may just be the one that finally elevates them to the next level. AMERICAN GODS, based on the novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman, is a strange trip through America and the strange things that exist between the cracks. The series focuses on Shadow Moon, a convict with a penchant for strange dreams who is released from prison a few days early because his wife died in a car accident. On his way home he encounters a bit of a hustler who goes by the name of Mr Wednesday. Wednesday gets under Shadow’s skin from the very beginning by being overly familiar and knowing far more about Shadow then he should. On top of that, he keeps showing up even after Shadow has left him far behind, and he is eagerly seeking to employ Shadow. While Shadow would prefer to have nothing to do with him, his lack of funds and the death of his wife and best friend have left him with few options, so he accepts employment, but only with the caveat that if Wednesday pisses him off too much he will walk away without a second thought. Thus begins the enigmatic opening episode of this fascinating new series.
As a fan of the book, I obviously had very high expectations for this series, and thankfully it seems like show runners Brian Fuller (TV’s HANNIBAL) and Michael Green (LOGAN) took the time to understand the source material to create a show that delivers on just about every level for fans. While the show doesn’t exactly fill you in on all the details of what’s going on, that is intentional, because you are supposed to be as lost and confused as Shadow and learn things as he does, so don’t worry if you don’t quite know what’s going on yet, that will come. I quite liked the way they opened with a “Coming to America” segment and had a “Somewhere in America” segment. These are designed to flesh out the world and show you how various gods got brought to America and what some of those gods are doing now. Also, while there were, of course, changes from the book, most were to update the narrative to modern day, flesh things out, or to streamline some minor details, and they all worked surprisingly well, leaving me with an overall opening that was supremely satisfying.
The production values for AMERICAN GODS were outstanding and didn’t shy away from the more disconcerting parts of the narrative. I was particularly impressed with the Bilquis sequence, as it was a very difficult scene to transfer to the screen without being grotesquely graphic, and they managed to walk that line, creating a scene that was intense and impactful without being too graphic. However, I did love the over the top graphic violence of the opening sequence. They used a combination of practical and special effects to create the blood soaked viking opening, and while it may cause some to be squeamish, I think it did an excellent job of demonstrating that this show won’t shy away from any content. Another highlight of the production values was the beautiful stylized imagery, particularly in Shadow’s dream sequences. The change in colors, camera work, and the unique dreamscapes do an exceptional job of creating an otherworldly feeling that will keep you both enthralled and guessing.
No matter how great the writing or how beautiful the imagery, no show can stand without a cast to bring it together, and I was quite impressed with the performances. Ricky Whittle (TV’s THE 100) plays Shadow Moon, and he is delightfully versatile in the role. Shadow is a man who has just found out his wife died and has just been let out of prison, so it comes as little surprise that he is angry and his fuse is short, and while Whittle portrays this perfectly, with the right amount of power and rage, Whittle softens hit portrayal a bit as Shadow attends his wife’s funeral, hinting at the man’s true nature, which was a nice demonstration of his range and talent. By far the highlight of the cast is Ian McShane (JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2) as the mysterious Mr Wednesday. We first see Wednesday as he is conning his way into first class on a plane, and he seems feeble and old, but then as he strikes up a conversation with Shadow we see a man who is sharp, enigmatic, but certainly calmly in control, and McShane gives him a playful air that is also laced with a power and authority that makes you take notice, very impressive. Taking on the part of Mad Sweeney, a towering, self proclaimed leprechaun is Pablo Schreiber (TV’s ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK) and he does a nice job with the role. We only get to see Sweeney in one scene where he is a violent, antagonistic ass and Schreiber portrays this perfectly, giving us a man who revels in violence and mischief merely for the sake of them. I was pleasantly surprised by Betty Gilpin (TV’s MASTERS OF SEX) as Audrey, wife of Shadow’s dead best friend, Robbie. Robbie died in the same car accident as Shadow’s wife, so Audrey is reeling from the pain and anger at losing her husband and Gilpin manages to embody this perfectly and makes her come to life in a very real way, with the result being that she steals every scene she is in. Lastly, Bruce Langley (DEADLY WATERS) plays the Technical Boy, and while he is something of a new comer, he is pretty solid in the role. All we really learn of Technical Boy this episode is that he is against Mr Wednesday and that he is a self entitled, arrogant bully and Langley plays him well, easily making him the distasteful little pissant he is.
AMERICAN GODS has started off with a bang, and while the story isn’t fully clear yet, there is no doubt it’s interesting. Add to that some beautiful visuals and strong performances and you’ve got one of the best series openers in a long time. If you’re even remotely curious about this show, you should definitely check it out. AMERICAN GODS has the potential to be the next smash hit for Starz.
Final Score: 9 out of 10