SXSW TV Review – American Gods
Bryan Fuller (or rather NBC) left Hannibal fans high and dry after the third season. The level of artistry of Fuller’s creative team needed another outlet, and before the blood was dry from the end of Hannibal, Fuller and company embarked on another episodic journey, American Gods.
American Gods is a novel by Neil Gaiman, and Starz took a chance on the subject matter with Fuller in charge with a (first) season order. The show has been in production for a while with the spectacular cast growing as the months progressed. The final product is hitting Starz this April, and the first episode had its world premiere at SXSW.
American Gods revolves around the gods and goddesses of the past, brought over to America by the beliefs of those emigrating. Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) is the main character of the first episode, and probably the rest as well. He is a convict, a good one if there is such a thing. A few days before the end of his three-year stint in prison, he learns that his wife, Laura (Emily Browning) has died. On an early release order, he embarks on the journey back home to Eagle Point, Missouri for his wife’s funeral. Along the way, he meets Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) who knows quite a bit about Shadow and proposes Shadow come into his employ. Reluctantly and with a bit of luck, he does.
David Slade directed the first episode and with Fuller and Slade reunited again, the blood does spill everywhere in with the series’ introduction. Released from those pesky network censors, the opening sequence solidifies what is to come in this series. A journeying Viking boat finally spots new land on which to scavenge and conquer. Upon one of them leaving the beach area, he is literally shot with arrows across every inch of his body and a few more for good measure. Realizing they are no match for arrows and unseen enemies, the Vikings wish to leave, but there is no wind. No matter what they do, their god does not give them the wind to leave. Stabbing themselves in the eye and sacrificing a live member of their party are just two of the unsuccessful ways. It is the realization that the god of war may want exactly that to be appeased, they battle each other. A person is sliced in half, a bloody, dismembered arm flies across the screen, and there is copious amounts of blood. They get their wind. It is in this opening series of scenes that you realize that this will not be a quaint, interesting story with just some graphic sex and curse words.
Personally, I have only read about one-fourth of American Gods, but it was enough to have read almost everything that is seen in the first episode. For the devoted readers, it is thus far faithful to Gaiman’s words. There is some varying on how certain people meet, and how they get to where they are going. If anything, the changes make it more interesting. Reading about Shadow’s dreams does not come close to the visualization seen on screen. I’m still not clear on what it all means, but the first episode does plenty of teasing on Shadow’s supposed bigger part in this world. It should be noted that Fuller broadened the roles of the female characters to not make it as male-centric as the book. This change is not seen in the first episode. Despite the changes, book devotees will be pleased to know that Gaiman is incredibly proud of this series and said as much during his taped introduction to the SXSW screening.
The most iconic scene read so far in my journey through American Gods is Bilquis’ (Yetide Badaki) introduction. The vagina worshipping scene is indeed in the first episode and it is a sight to behold. It is one hell of a forced perspective or green screen scene. It will kind of shock you to see a person’s vagina consume a man.
Considering this screening was only the first episode, the whole cast has not yet made their appearances. Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber), Technical Boy (Bruce Langley), Low Key Lyesmith (Jonathan Tucker), and Arlene (Betty Gilpin) all make it into the first episode. There are plenty more to come like Media (Gillian Anderson), Mr. World (Crispin Glover), and Czernobog (Peter Stormare).
American Gods is not a story I have completely figured out yet, and that is part of the fun of it. It is already a complex story, multi-layered by the hidden intentions and history of its characters. The imagery is intense and different from any other series currently airing. There are moments of the episode that recall the style of Hannibal, even the music, and that is not a bad thing, just Fuller and Slade’s creative minds at work and now given more liberty, pushing the envelope again. American Gods is a heavily awaited series by many and this first episode screening only increased the anticipation to see the remaining episodes. April can’t come soon enough.
American Gods premieres April 30, 2017 on Starz. It is unclear at this point if this is a one season series or if we can expect a second season coming soon.