The adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel is centered around Shadow, an ex-con released from prison early. He’s recruited by Wednesday into a war between the old and new gods of America. The audience will be driven through America’s backroads, picking up the various gods who hitchhiked to America on the backs of immigrant beliefs and long held superstitions.
Based on advanced screeners for four episodes, here is a spoiler free review.
Upon meeting Shadow, Cloris Leachman reminds Wednesday, “He does not know our world.” Wednesday replies “I’m easing him in.” Shadow is eased into this world, but not the viewer. The audience is thrown into this mesmerizing and baffling world of the gods right away.
When I first read the book, it seemed the veil between worlds was pulled back just enough to make one believe the gods were plausible. But it didn’t feel like fantasy. In the first few episodes the audience is either in the real world, Shadow’s dreams or the world of the gods.
The introduction to the gods’ world is a bit jarring. It takes some getting used to. But it is stunning. It’s no wonder Wednesday doesn’t pull Shadow in right away. I can’t wait to see how they merge the two worlds.
Each old world god is introduced in their “Coming to America” story. There are a few overly self-indulgent scenes I could have down without. These scenes are in the book, but they take up fewer pages than the show would suggest. While the book pulls no face punches on the circumstances surrounding the death of Shadow’s wife, this adaptation goes further to kick the poor guy in the nuts several times over her death. I hope there is a reason other than shock value, for reminding us so often, and crudely, about how Shadow’s wife died.
One extended storyline that does work though, is Laura, played by Emily Browning. She gets an entire episode. Fans of the book will love her development. She was a mechanism to move the plot along in the book, but you don’t get insight into her personality. I never understood the connection between Laura and Shadow. Their relationship build-up for the series is a huge improvement.
Another character development that wasn’t in the book is Laura’s best friend, Audrey. Her scenes were incredible. She may be my favorite character. She’s the only character owning any emotions, good or bad. Audrey barely appears in the book, but I hope they drag her, kicking and screaming, through the whole series.
The remaining cast is equally fitting. Ian McShane is perfect as Wednesday, the lecherous All Father, but oh so charming, older gentleman. He’s a smoldering combination of suave, funny, dark and cunning. ‘Vikings’ fan will easily see how Travis Fimmel’s Ragnar could be a descendant of his.
The book says Shadow has caramel skin and black hair. African or Native American backgrounds are mentioned as possibilities, but I never saw Shadow as any race in the book. So Ricky Whittle, an English actor of West Indian decent, makes a great Shadow. His looks create the perfect racial ambiguity the character needs. He has the right amount of stoicism and skepticism to be make the audience wonder whether we should have faith in what we’re seeing.
Jonathan Tucker plays Low Key (Hint: it’s pronounced “Loki”), Shadow’s prison friend and mentor. The promotional pictures tell me he’s perfect for the role, in his pre-Marvel jester’s doo rag.
I wasn’t getting great vibrations off of Pablo Schreiber, from “Orange is the New Black”, as the leprechaun, Mad Sweeney. But those ripples cleared away after his first scene. He embodies the perfect “American” leprechaun. The kind of leprechaun that may have come of age in Bostonian pub brawls or a Texas roadhouse.
Gillian Anderson makes an appearance by midseason. I won’t give away her character, Media’s, appearance. And Jeremy Davies will play Jesus. I’m having a difficult time picturing him in this role, after seeing his evil game in Sleepy Hollow. But I know he’ll be charismatic.
And this guy makes an appearance. He is perfectly cast as Audrey’s husband.
“American Gods” will air at 9pm ET on Starz started Sunday, April 30th. Keep an eye out for Fan Fest’s American Gods recaps each week.
Below is the official trailer, courtesy of STARZ
Picture source: Starz