Praise Be 'American Gods'

Praise Be 'American Gods'

My expectations were high for American Gods. It’s adapted from one of my favorite novels by one of my favorite writers, Neil Gaiman.

The show was developed by one of my favorite people from the land of TV, Bryan Fuller (known for his dark, macabre sense of humor with shows like Dead Like Me, Pushing Daisies, and Wonderfalls and with an extra emphasis on the dark and macabre with Hannibal.) It stars one of my favorite actors, Ian McShane, who injected such fire and grit into his performance as saloon owner Al Swearengen in Deadwood. So my expectations for this show were very high.

So please understand how big a deal it is when I say they were absolutely shattered in every conceivable way.

Everything about the first episode of American Gods is beyond perfect. I’ve yet to hear a single bad word about it, and I have some of the pickiest nerdy friends in the world, so that was entirely unexpected. From the opening shot of Mr. Ibis sticking a fountain pen into an inkwell to the final shot of Shadow Moon looking up in grateful awe after an incredibly close call, American Gods hooks the viewer in and won’t let go.

Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) is serving time for armed robbery, days away from being released when tragedy strikes. His wife died, so the prison releases him a few days early. On the plane home, Shadow meets a strange, charismatic con man named Mr. Wednesday, who offers him a job. There’s much more to Wednesday than meets the eye, but Shadow, left without the job that was waiting for him and without any family or friends, has little choice but to accept the old man’s offer. Shadow is then dragged into a world of myth and intrigue, leprechauns and love goddesses.

One of the major premises of American Gods is that America itself is not a land that is good for gods. They come here in the minds and hearts of their believers, but nothing ever takes root. The native peoples that occupied this land before anyone else didn’t have actual gods. There was a concept that maybe there was something behind it all, some kind of Great Spirit, but other than that they looked to the Earth itself to teach them, learned lessons from animals. But no one is going to worship Coyote, are they?

America was founded as a country to escape religious persecution, so it makes sense in a way. Because of this, though, the old gods that were brought to the shores of the New World were eventually forgotten, faded into myth or caricature. But what happens to an unkillable idea like a god when people stop offering prayers and worship? They don’t die — if they’re forgotten entirely they fade away — but no one has entirely forgotten the old gods. So they just exist, live among us, and get by and what little worship they can find. They’re basically starving, but (mostly) immortal as well.

Along with the old gods are a new set of distinctly “American” gods. Gods of airplanes and freeways, technology and media. Shiny gods of chrome and steel and shadowy gods of conspiracy and government. Shadow is introduced by way of kidnapping and beatings to the Technical Boy, a new-age god of internet and technology. Sitting in the back of a virtual reality Hummer limousine, smoking synthetic toad skins through a vape pen; he screams “Silicon Valley douchebag” before he even opens his mouth to confirm it.

Before I leave you all, I have to send all my praises to Ian McShane. I already knew, as did anyone who has seen him in Deadwood, that McShane would be perfect as Wednesday. I didn’t know just how perfect he would be. The foul-mouthed, short-tempered Al Swearengen was the role that sealed his place in the lexicon of American TV Greatness, so most of my expectations incorporated those character traits. Instead, we get the foul-mouthed part but none of the short fuse. Wednesday is absolutely giddy, and McShane practically sashays and dances his way through any scene he’s in. Like everything else about American Gods, my expectations were absolutely shattered.

American Gods airs every Sunday for the next seven weeks on Starz, or streams anytime day or night on their app. Go and watch, worship at the altar of American Gods, which promises to be one of the most-talked-about shows of the summer.

Categories: Commentary