This article contains information that could be considered too revealing according to our spoiler policy. Proceed with caution. You can't unsee it!Reason The show doesn't premiere until a few days after this post's publication; we got screeners.
Will American Gods Answer Your Prayers?
Bryan Fuller has turned a Neil Gaiman novel into a Starz TV show. For some people, this may sound like religion itself.
What Is This Thing?
Why, it's an adaptation of Neil Gaiman's fantasy novel about the old-world gods that came to America with each new wave of immigrants! Now, however, the vintage deities are losing their power, as fewer people believe in them and instead worship new gods like media and technology. And because this story is as much an extended allegory as a rip-roaring adventure, you'd better believe that Media is an actual character, just like Odin (or Mr. Wednesday, as he's called) and Bilquis (a.k.a. The Queen of Sheba).
As the old and new gods gear up for a war to determine who shall control American souls, a recently released prisoner named Shadow Moon (yes, that's his given name) gets unexpectedly involved. Shortly after learning that his wife and best friend died in a car crash while she was (ahem) tasting his rainbow, Shadow is hired as Mr. Wednesday's personal assistant.
But this is no regular job! Shadow is thrust into the middle of these immortal goings-on. Is it possible he's just an unlucky bystander...or is he a dude with surprising connections to the mythical realm? We may find out soon -- but not before another shot of a woman's bare breasts!
When Is It On?
The show is on Starz, which is why you see so much nipple (and hear so many f-bombs.) The eight-episode first season airs Sundays at 9 PM ET, starting April 30.
Why Was It Made Now?
Gaiman's novel is excellent -- I don't even typically like fantasy literature, and I swallowed this book whole on vacation -- and networks have been trying to adapt since at least 2011, when HBO gave it ago. After that network dropped the project, Bryan Fuller got involved as an executive producer, and given his work on mythology-driven series like Pushing Daisies and Hannibal, there was no way this show was going to flounder. Plus, the magical element is on trend, but since it has nothing to with Disney princesses, dragons, or superheroes, it can still seem slightly distinct. Toss in the fact that every prestige drama worth caring about is now legally required to begin its title with the word "American," and you've got a no-brainer.
What's Its Pedigree?
Gaiman is joining Fuller as a producer, so that's good news for his fans. Meanwhile, the cast includes Fuller-verse regulars like Beth Grant (as a salty waitress); Gillian Anderson (as the human incarnation of media); and Kristin Chenoweth (as the goddess Easter) in small roles. Mr. Wednesday is played by Ian McShane, which immediately tells you he's going to be the most interesting character in the show. Except for maybe the Slavic goddess played by Cloris Leachman.
Or the angry leprechaun played by Pablo Schreiber. Point being: there are a lot of off-kilter actors in this thing.
"Off-kilter" is also a good way to describe the first two episodes. There's something dangerous about the tone. It's not only that there's a lot of violence (though there is), but also that there's a surprising amount of humor. Take the moment Mr. Wednesday brings Shadow to the apartment of Czernobog, the Slavic god of darkness. As played by Peter Stormare, he's now a down-on-his-luck cow butcher in Chicago, just trying to hustle his way through games of checkers, where the prize is getting to bash the loser's head in with a hammer.
This scene has a crazy energy -- a barely contained mania -- that makes it thrilling to watch. Are these immortals going to blow the room apart, or are they going to fully embrace their current lot and just get potato chip crumbs on their soiled undershirts?
Even better: there isn't a lot of boring expository dialogue to explain the stakes here. We're trusted to understand the far-reaching implications for ourselves. (I cannot tell you how much I appreciate this, given the alternative.) That means the actors can get right down to the business of being characters, instead of vessels for information. I may have only seen Orlando Jones in one scene as Mr. Nancy, which is the human disguise for the African trickster god Anansi, but I'm already feeling him. He seems like the world's most exhilarating cult leader, and I want more.
I also want more of the show's visual style. Mr. Nancy's scene, for instance, takes place on a slave ship, since it was enslaved Africans who "brought" him to America by believing in him. But even though the scene is set during the 17th century, Mr. Nancy is dressed like a 1920s cardsharp. It's visual choice that tells you he exists out of time, and that he has an eye for fashion. These are the details that make paying attention worthwhile.
And maybe someday, the women will get to participate in the fun! In its first two hours, though, the series is almost oppressively hetero-male. Cloris Leachman and her sisters just putter around behind Czernobog. The ghostly memory of Shadow's wife is basically on hand to remind you that she cheated on him and broke his heart. And then there's Bilquis, whom we see naked many times as she keeps screwing unwitting humans and then engulfing them with her vagina.
So in other words, the only female character who isn't there to serve a man (or his storyline) is there to show some boobs while enacticng misogynistic nightmare about a powerful black woman. If I didn't know that the book ends up giving the female characters a lot more to do, this would make me back off from the show right now.
That and the exhausting macho posturing. There's got to be at least ONE male god who's not trying to prove himself by physically intimidating other men. Where's Bacchus? Where's Pan? Where's Osiris? You know -- the gods who might be queer? Or having fun? Sure, I've heard they're arriving imminently, but why make us wait?
But like I said, I know that other characters show up in the novel who balance out these less appealing elements. God willing they'll arrive on my screen before Season 2. For now, there's enough here to keep me watching for at least a few more weeks, but if I don't get some ladies and homos kicking ass with a quickness, then I'm out.