When any beloved book is adapted into a different medium, be it film or television, the very first thing people wonder is, “Will it do the book justice?” The quick answer to this is, YES, at least in the first 4 episodes that we’ve screened.
First up is the exceptional casting. While a few characters may not be exactly what we first envisioned when reading the book, seeing them in action on the screen it’s immediately hard to imagine anyone else playing them. Ian McShane as “Mr. Wednesday” is absolutely brilliant and devours every scene he is in. His refined charm and coy optimism project out of the TV making it difficult to dislike the bastard. Pablo Schreiber, well known for his “Pornstache” role on Orange Is the New Black may have seen an odd choice to play the leprechaun “Mad Sweeney” when first announced, but those concerns were quenched when the first character photos of him were released. His encounter with Shadow Moon(Ricky Whittle) at the Crocodile Bar in the first episode is one of the series highlights. Ricky Whittle’s visually fits the role but his performance, especially in the first episode, is so muted that he pales in comparison to those around him. But, after a few episodes, it’s obvious this is by design. A mortal-amongst-gods, he shouldn’t be the one shining bright, except to maybe Laura Moon (Emily Browning) Whittle also as a WTF-Is-Going-On expression that is unparalleled. A requirement for anyone experiencing what he is.
Shadow’s late wife Laura(Emily Browning) doesn’t get much screen time until the 4th episode, “The Bone Orchard.” This episode is almost entirely hers, giving us a much deeper look into who she is and her relationship with Shadow. Surprisingly, the episode defines her as a much more flawed individual, one we might not like as much but is infinitely more interesting. Her character arc and growth carry more weight as she sheds her selfish ways devoting her (after)life to helping her “puppy.” (The pet name feels far more natural in the series than it did in the book)
The first four episodes follow the intent of the novel very closely, thankfully due to Gaiman’s guidance as executive producer. So far, changes exist only to tweak or enhance the storytelling. Events may take place slightly out of order, or portrayed a bit differently, some of which are updates to the story which is already nearly 20 years ago. A perfect example is Shadow’s first meeting with Technical Boy (Bruce Langley), his physical limo in the book being replaced with a Virtual Construct.
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.
If there are any concerns to be had, it’s the longevity of the series, considering how quickly it sprints through the novel. To be fair, many novels have been condensed to two-hour movies successfully, but American Gods is such an epic, sprawling story that even one or two short seasons don’t seem like they could be enough. Raising further concern is the first season was cut from 10 episodes to eight! Reportedly this reduction was made to increase the quality of the season and was approved by Gaiman himself. Here’s what we currently know. Season 1 will end just as they reach House on the Rock, the meeting place of the Old Gods. This is roughly a third of the way through the book, so at this pace we’re looking at 2 or 3 seasons if it were to follow the source. But keep in mind that not only Neil Gaiman currently working on “American Gods 2” but there are already other stories he’s penned that take place in this universe. There’s a full novel about Mr. Nancy (Orlando Jones) called “Anansi Boys” and two short story sequels featuring Shadow called “The Monarch of the Glen” and “Black Dog.” As long as ratings hold up, there should be plenty of Godly Goodness for years to come.