This blog post is long overdue, let me just say, because I started watching the American Gods TV series last year, and I first read the book back in 2009. I’ve reviewed a Neil Gaiman book before (read my review of Anansi Boys here) but I have to say, American Gods is my absolute favorite. So when I first heard that they were finally going to release a TV series, I was ecstatic (but also nervous. You know how people can sometimes fuck this up.)
I can’t rightly tell you why American Gods is my favorite. I mean, Neil Gaiman in general is my favorite author. Everything I like about American Gods, you’ll find in his other books. But there’s something so compelling about American Gods. To borrow a word from Good Omens, it’s simply ineffable.
Anyway, I finally finished Season 1 of the TV series, so I thought I’d do a joint Currently Watching and Kate’s Books review, since if there’s anything in the world of creatives that deserves twice the attention from me, it’s definitely this.
A little background!
American Gods is a blend of Americana, fantasy, and mythology. Its main premise is that gods, legends, and mythical creatures, in all their various iterations, exist in real life because of people’s belief in them. In America, different gods and supernatural beings were brought over from their native lands by immigrants, whose faith planted roots and grew. However, the power of these beings is diminished over the years as belief in them fades. Instead, people start believing in “new gods”: Media, the Internet, drugs, money, etc.
The main character is Shadow Moon, an ex-convict released early from prison because his wife, Laura, has just died. Out of any prospects, he’s approached on his plane home by a conman who calls himself Mr. Wednesday, who tells him that he’s in need of a bodyguard. Shadow accepts. He and Mr. Wednesday travel across America by road (think a weird, existential Supernatural) convincing Mr. Wednesday’s “colleagues” – including two men named Mr. Nancy and Czernobog – to join a certain venture of his. It is then that Shadow discovers the truth: Mr. Wednesday is really the Norse god Odin, Mr. Nancy is the Ghana folk spirit Anansi, and Czernobog is a dark Slavic deity. Mr. Wednesday’s “colleagues” are other gods and creatures of legend, much diminished in America, and their venture is against the new gods, the fast, glittery, gods which humans now worship and pour their belief into.
Now, you might ask. Is it meant to be a condemnation of modern society’s values and priorities?
No, absolutely not. I did not, at all, get any religious overtones from this book, despite the presence of gods. (It even has iterations of Jesus, and shows how a Jesus in America fares much better than a Jesus who lives in the Middle East. Additionally, it also compares the myth of Jesus to the myth of Mithras.) Rather, I see it as a juxtaposition of the frailty of the human condition, against the supposed powerful and might gods, both old and new.
Shadow puts it best:
I think I would rather be a man than a god. We don’t need anyone to believe in us. We just keep going anyhow. It’s what we do.
So, how’d the TV series do?
It was, to put it plainly, weird. It’s not a show you can have playing in the background, like Friends or How I Met Your Mother. It’s not feel-good. It’s not quirky, funny, or even remotely easy to understand. I’ve watched all eight episodes three times – not to mention read and reread the book several times since freaking 2009 – and I still don’t get some parts of it. Or at least, not the way I usually understand and analyze TV shows.
But it was weird in a good way. It’s the kind of weird that keeps you coming back for more. It’s the intriguing kind of weird, the weird that makes you, “Huh,” in a slow, curious kind of voice, and then slowly settle down and peruse it some more.
Visually, the show was stunning. Each shot was utterly crisp and perfect and so, so, so compelling. There are some triggering moments (such as scenes of Shadow being lynched and other such graphic violence) so watch out for that, but otherwise, I have nothing bad at all to say about the cinematography.
The acting? Phenomenal. Emily Browning and Kristin Chenoweth in particular were amazing! And Orlando Johnson as Compe Anansi was so dark, vicious, and utterly quotable. (For a good long while, my Twitter bio was “anger gets shit done”. Also, if nothing else, watch that scene where Compe Anansi urges slaves captured by white men to riot and burn down the ship they’re on. It’s so great, and incredibly relevant to the political climate in the States.)
All in all, I really think the TV series really delivered. There was nothing I disliked about it. Eight episodes long (and covering up to about one-fourth of the book), it left me hungry for more of this strange, unique, rich universe. If you’re into existential crises, mythology, road trips, and philosophizing, you’ll like this TV series!