American Gods

So American Gods aired its first episode in the UK on Amazon prime on Monday. Do we care? Should we? TheTramp thinks so and she’s gonna tell you why…

It is an adaptation of a brilliant, smart book by British writer Neil Gaiman

Gaiman is a great writer of fiction. He weaves myths, legends, history and philosophy into all of his best work and American Gods is no exception. First published in 2001 and considered by many to be his finest work Gods is, in essence, a road trip. It features Shadow Moon, an ex-con who meets Mr Wednesday on his way home to his wife’s funeral and finds himself employed as his body guard. It is evident early on that Mr Wednesday is more than he first appears – indeed he is Odin and he is off  on a road trip to round up the old Gods and take on the new ones. The book was successful enough that on its 10th anniversary Gaiman added several thousand words to it, effectively returning much that his editor removed. Which is relevant here because it means there is plenty of material for a TV adaptation to work with; enough for three planned series and possibly more.

The TV version is brought to you by Bryan Fuller, Michael Green and Starz

Fuller is better known as the man who brought Hannibal to your TV screens, Green recently wrote the fan boy and critic-lauded Logan; and Starz are TV producers offering shows as diverse as the Liz Hurley-starring Royals, the historical drama The White Princess and now this.  In short – there is a strong pedigree here.

Many thought that American Gods was the sort of story that should be filmed but was just too complex for the screen. Indeed HBO originally had the rights to Gods but dropped the option, allowing Starz to swoop in. For fans of the book it must be reassuring to know that Gaiman is also involved and has given it a thumbs up.

There are eight episodes in this series and three series currently planned

Which shows confidence. As noted the source novel offers enough material to do this but Gaiman has indicated that the series may go beyond his novel and he is quite happy with this. There are also strong rumours that Gaiman is writing a sequel. So for producers, outlets and viewers there is plenty to work with.

It boasts an interesting cast

The characters of the novel would have offered the casting directors an interesting challenge and book fans must have wondered who would be cast. The first episode introduces us to Ian McShane as Mr Wednesday and Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon. Whittle will be the unknown quantity for many. Some viewers will know him from his days in UK youth soap Hollyoaks (or for nearly winning Strictly – Ed), but anyone who has seen the fun, if overlooked, Austenland will know that he is an actor with more strings to his bow. McShane brings the weight of his time-proven TV charisma (Lovejoy, Swearengen) as Mr Wednesday, whilst Emily Browning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Sucker Punch, Legend) – we only briefly hear from her in this first episode – is Shadow’s wife Laura.

But the cast to come offers promise; Crispin Glover, Gillian Anderson, Peter Stormare, Bruce Langley and Yetide Badaki are all set to provide Godly presences. Indeed Badaki has a moment in the first episode that, for me at least, offered echoes of Twin Peaks thanks in part to the strangeness of the scene, but largely due to the great quantities of red curtain and perspective of the camera.

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It looks gorgeous

If cinematography matters to you then the first episode suggests that this show will tickle your taste buds in the most delicious way. It looks fantastic. The adverts feature the sort of Neon Lighting used by diners by the side of the road, and the colour saturation in the first episode was certainly reminiscent of Edward Hopper for me.  It made me think of Preacher, another Amazon Prime exclusive in the UK that offered visuals to match the storyline; sun-bleached and parched, just like the characters (well, vampires aside).

It is a confident opener

The universe is set in this opening episode. Violence is bloody and presented cartoonishly, in the Sin City sense, with great splashes of dark red gushing forth against sepia-toned visuals that imply violence far greater than that seen by viewers.   Sex is offered and presented as its own form of violence, suggesting that it too holds a position of power and will have a crucial role to play in this tale. Whilst Moon’s prison world is a bubble of sanity against that of the longed for freedom of the world outside; explaining how Mr Wednesday or a man declaring himself to be a leprechaun, are seen as no more strange or hostile than the airline employee who won’t allow travel a day early to the recently released ex-con Moon.

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The dream sequences, where Moon walks through bones, are modern interpretations of old tales usually viewed these days in cinematic epics featuring Greek heroes.  When Moon finds himself in a limo, questioned about Mr Wednesday’s visit, the line between reality and dream is deliberately blurred. If you have read the book you may know what is happening, but the point here is that you shouldn’t. This is all deliberately strange, but for Shadow what is unreal is the death of his wife, everything else is a distraction dulled by his grief and need to understand so fundamental a loss.

And so the scene is set. My prediction is that this is a show that will find its pace in the third episode and its audience by the second. Amazon, unlike Netflix, seems keen to stick to the one episode a week format, which is a shame because I suspect that this is the sort of show where binge viewing would work in its favour. Well, in 8 weeks’ time we will know if I was right.

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