It’s finally here–Neil Gaiman’s smash hit fantasy novel American Gods has been brought to our TV screens, courtesy of Starz, Bryan Fuller and Michael Green. Last night was the season premier and lucky for you four of AiPT!’s best have broken it down for you. Is it good?
Alyssa: American Gods was a tough book for me to get into (it took me three times before I made it more than a third of the way through), but once I did, it’s a story that struck me and stuck with me. As someone who has been burned by book adaptations before I was trying to keep my expectations low, but overall, I’m very impressed. The cast so far is phenomenal and very well cast for the roles. They are being very true to the book, to the point of directly quoting the dialog in places. The director has made some really interesting choices and the tone is exactly right.
My one complaint so far is the style, by which I mean over-styling. Pushing Daisies and Hannibal, the other two big shows Bryan Fuller has produced, both had a high style and concept and the stories were definitely suited to that kind of styling. What I love about Neil Gaiman’s writing, specifically with American Gods, is how grounded in realism the story is, even as magical/godlike things are happening. But since the book is written from Shadow’s point of view, and he is incredibly practical, that grounding influences the text.
Hannibal styling treated gore and blood with an obsessive, loving air, which fit because Hannibal was an artist and created tableaus with his victims. Taking that out to the styling of the show made sense. But I’m not sure it works as well here. You could make an argument that a show about a war between gods earns a grandiosity, but that’s not the style that Gaiman wrote. After the fifth slow-mo shot of an arc of blood and the ridiculous over-the-top violence, it made it feel almost silly, which this book never is. It reminded me too much of Game of Thrones, which may have been intentional, but this is not the same kind of book.
The best scenes were the personal interactions: Wednesday and Shadow meeting on the plane, Mad Sweeney and Shadow in the bar, Audrey and Shadow in the graveyard, even Bilquis and her date had a wonderful intimacy and intensity.
For that nitpick, this show is off to a really good start. There are several characters and scenes that I can’t wait to see, and I’m definitely in for the long haul.
JJ: I’m a huge Neil Gaiman fan and in anticipation of the show, I re-read American Gods within the last month. In retrospect I wish I hadn’t. Once the show started, I realized I wanted to experience Starz’s interpretations of Gaiman’s vision without immediately comparing everything to the book. Luckily it was largely helpful to watch the show with my girlfriend, someone who has had zero exposure to the book and went in blind. Out of fear of spoiling it for her, I forced myself to be impartial and I’m really glad I did.
Without question the biggest draw here are the characters. I have to tip my hat to the casting team because they did a simply amazing job in picking the right people to play very unique characters. Ian McShane (Mr. Wednesday), Yetide Badaki (Bilquis) and Betty Gilpin (Audrey) put on marvelous performances. Ricky Whittle (Shadow) is going to take some time to develop, but as a man who’s been dropped into a world of crazy strangers, eerie coincidences and surreal visions, it’s exactly what I’d expect from him thus far.
Next to the characters the most notable piece of the show is how beautifully filmed it is. As Alyssa noted before me, the show has a very distinct feel and style visually. There are two scenes where violence is taken to the point of hilarity (I was literally giggling while my girlfriend looked on in horror) and while it was ridiculous, the slow motion sprays of gore looked great! The other scene I took a special interest in involved Shadow getting the absolute crap kicked out of him in the rain, it was absolutely stunning visually.
JJ: Ricky Whittle is exactly how I imagined Shadow to be when reading American Gods. Props to the casting department for this discovery. This is my first exposure to him in an acting role and while he’s a little on the bland side, I think that’s exactly how Shadow needs to be introduced to the audience. Really looking forward to watching him fall down the rabbit hole.
Alyssa: Siiiigh. Heaven save me from a dreamy intense man. Ricky Whittle is hitting the stoic, intense, brawny but braininess perfectly for what I had imagined in my head. He has excellent chemistry with basically everyone he’s interacted with so far, and you want to root for him, which is the most important part for this series.
Dog: This poor guy stays level-headed after enduring the worst things possible, meeting an internet troll come to life, and getting savaged by his Daft Punk-inspired goon squad. That stoicism makes him a mighty hero, but a slightly boring one at the same time. Hope he shows a little fire in the future.
Patrick: I was kind of amazed at how Shadow took the insane things that were happening to him in stride. Crazed, self-described liar and swindler gives a job offer before his 6-foot-5 leprechaun henchman beats the shit out of you for the sport of it? Well, beats prison I guess. It’s clear what type of character Shadow Moon is supposed to be though, and the performance did a great job portraying that character.
Dog: Ian McShane turns in maybe the best performance of the episode. He knows a thing or two about a thing or two, and can always use a man like Shadow to do what needs to be done. I think I caught that foreshadowing of his identity. *WINK*
Patrick: Besides Bilquis, and Audrey’s surprisingly powerful scene with Shadow, Mr. Wednesday definitely steals the show thus far. You go from hating him to applauding his audacity to wanting to see just what the hell he’s gonna be up to next.
JJ: A self-described liar, swindler and con-man. Not exactly the man you want to see your lead character rubbing shoulders with. Except Ian McShane’s performance is so masterful that you find yourself disappointed every time he isn’t on screen and silently praying that Shadow ends up with him, every time Mr. Wednesday makes him a dangerous offer.
Alyssa: Ian McShane could not be more perfectly cast. He truly nailed the character as he was pulling the con on the airline counter lady, and I love his chemistry with Ricky. That’s the core relationship to this story, so it’s incredibly important. Most of all, McShane makes you like this guy, even though you know he’s a crook and Shadow should probably stay far far away from him.
Dog: In all seriousness, her scene is an interesting look at how gods need to be worshipped to maintain their power, and what happens when they go too long without that praise.
In less seriousness, what a way to go for that lucky guy! Beats the hell out of the Sarlacc pit.
Patrick: None of my OKCupid dates have ended up like that–I don’t know if I should be relieved or disappointed. This scene was incredible. It was wonderfully acted and beautifully shot. I came out of this episode wanting to know more about Bilquis more than anybody else by a long shot, and not just because she consumed another human being through her vagina (okay, mostly because of that).
JJ: When I first saw the promotional posters for the show and saw that Bilquis had her own, I knew I could expect the scene. This was the scene I was most curious about and most looking forward to, and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s really tricky to show a woman consuming a fully grown man through her vagina, but hats off American Gods crew, you did it!
I also need to give a shout out to Yetide Badaki. Not only is she stunning but she’s arguably the most compelling character on the show right now and she had the least amount of screen time next to Mad Sweeney.
Alyssa: When we saw Bilquis appear in the bar, the entire room of people I was watching with started oooing, because we knew what was coming and couldn’t wait to see how it played out. I think they did a great job with a pretty nutsy concept, but it’s so important to establishing this world. Hopefully non-book folks got a better idea of what this story is going to be from this scene. (Bonus Fun Fact: Bilquis’s worshipper is Joel, the youngest of the 9 Murray kids in show biz, Bill Murray’s brother!)
JJ: I went into last night’s episode with a list of characters I was really excited to see. Audrey wasn’t on my mind, let alone on my list. Betty Gilpin blew me away with her absolutely incredible performance. Without a doubt she had the best scene of the episode. Gilpin’s character’s transition from furiously angry and cynical with grief to a confused, depraved, desperate rant – was a thing of beauty.
Alyssa: Hands down the best scene in the episode. Audrey is a tough character to play, because while she isn’t pivotal in the overall story, she’s very important for this part of Shadow’s development. The actress played it perfectly, and the director made a smart choice in keeping everything else in the scene very simple and realistic.
Dog: Never read the book, don’t know much about it, so I’m going into this American Gods series pretty blind. As most of the viewing public will be in the same boat, what did I think?
I actually like the artistry of it all. It kind of distracts from the fact that you don’t know what the fuck is going on. I mean, okay, I cheated a little and read a basic premise, so I have a faint idea of what’s up, and who some of the characters are meant to represent, but for someone who’s just tuning in to see the hot show everyone’s buzzing about, it’s likely abject confusion. The creators should probably tip their hand a little bit more to keep the lay audience engaged.
But then again, American Gods does have all the hallmarks of a successful pay-cable series. The ironically tragic protagonist! A hot-ass sex scene! A cautionary tale of road head! And GORE, GORE, GORE!
I don’t mean to slag the thing too much, as the overall package is beautifully presented and some of the performances are outstanding. A lot of fiction fails for putting plot above character development; the first episode of American Gods may be guilty of the reverse.
JJ: The first episode of American Gods worked out really well due to the support of brilliant acting, beautiful visuals, violence to the point of absurdity and a special scene with the goddess of love. For the show to continue down the path of “damn that was good”, it’s going to need to start filling in the story in a way that those who haven’t read the book can comprehend. As we’re only at episode one, I’m more than happy to patiently wait.