What is this weird “American Gods” show that everyone is talking about? What IS an American God anyways? And who is this Neil Gaiman guy?
Neil Gaiman is regarded as a bit of a god himself by his rabid and rapidly expanding fan base. His literary works run the full gamut from epic novels and screenplays to graphic novels and short stories. All of his tales, tall or otherwise, are weird but in the most wonderful ways possible. No matter what genre you are interested in, Gaiman has likely touched it in someway. Comic books? He co-created the character of Angela along with Todd McFarlane, for Spawn. (She also recently appeared in the Guardians of the Galaxy TV series). Graphic novels? He wrote the award winning “The Sandman” series. Science Fiction? He’s penned episodes for Doctor Who, Babylon 5, and was tasked by the Wachowski’s to write a Matrix short story. Is Sherlock Holmes and H.P. Lovecraft more your speed? Yeah, he wrote a story that combines those two worlds. In addition, he wrote the book “Coraline” was based on and came up with the story for “Stardust” while visiting Tucson, AZ. This is but the tip of the iceberg of his vast creative world.
“American Gods” was first published in 2001 with a special expanded Anniversary version in 2011. Gaiman was inspired to write the book after traveling through America and marveling at the melting pot of cultures, ideologies, and roadside attractions. His inspiration eventually turned toward the mythologies all of these various people brought to this country. A God is a creature who is given power and immortality by those that worship or call upon them. Gods of old were given praise by sacrifices of blood, something that is somewhat frowned upon today. As various cultures through the centuries visited this new land, they brought with them their gods, many of whom, over time were left starving as the cultures melded and various traditions were abandoned by later generations. As the world changed, new gods were given birth. Technology, Drugs, Media, the things our modern lifestyle “sacrifices” and pledges allegiance to. How much time do you personally sacrifice to your cell phone, a movie, or the internet?
But this isn’t a story of religion, it’s a violent war story, one that revolves around fate and redemption. Shadow Moon(Ricky Whittle) is an ex-con who is released from prison a few days early when he learns that his wife Laura (Emily Browning) was killed in a car crash. Laura was the only thing in his life worth living for. On his way back home for her funeral, fate has Shadow crossing paths with the enigmatic Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane). Wednesday never answers a question straight, but seems to know everything: who Shadow is, where he is going, and the specifics of Laura’s death. Wednesday offers Shadow a job, which he denies three times before finally accepting. This job involves driving Wednesday around, running errands for him, and protecting him, “should the need arise.” Their journey quickly dives down the rabbit hole with the everyday world becoming increasingly surreal. As Shadow debates whether he is becoming enlightened or insane they meet a variety of unique characters. 6’-0” leprechaun(Pablo Schreiber), an ancient female god who devours lovers with her genitals (Yetide Badaki), and a reincarnated Lucille Ball (Gillian Anderson) Sprinkled through the series are small tales of how various ancient gods were brought to the New Land. Episode 2 contains a marvelous prologue for Mr. Nancy (Orlando Jones), a spider deity brought to America via an ill-fated slave ship.
Aesthetically, the art direction of the series is absolute perfection. Every moment feels surreal although it varies between the subtle to the extreme, matching Shadow’s nagging feeling that he’s now living in a dream/nightmare. Scene after scene is oversaturated to the point that we half expect the constant red motif to begin dripping blood from the screen. Violence, when it occurs, is grotesquely over the top and decadent, blood gushing forth in slow-motion ballets of gore. There appears to be a nice balance between practical blood and the CGI-blood Starz perfected during their “Spartacus” series.
There is a concern that new viewers may have a difficult time understanding what is going on. Please be assured, this is a series that is worth the time investment. Eventually, everything will make sense and clues sprinkled throughout the episodes will begin to lock together revealing things that could have been obvious, if you knew where to look. The book is a masterpiece of storytelling, and based from the first half of the season that we have screened, the series is on track to do the same. Don’t expect the 8 epsiode season to wrap up the story though, as early reports have it ending about one third of the way into the story. That will give you plenty of time to read the book and re-watch season 1 for all of the great fan-service moments and nods, before season 2 drops!
If you have trouble finding time to read a novel, we HIGHLY recommend the American Gods Audiobook on Audible. The voice is -exceptional- and even includes Neil Gaiman for the prologue sections. New subscribers can even get the book for free!