It’s no secret that my love for TV is a love passed down from father to daughter. Dad has always watched copious amounts of TV, and it feels like he’s seen every movie and show under the sun (except Breaking Bad? Heresy!). So when I interrupted his Sunday afternoon rewatch of Battlestar Galactica, and he asked me what I wanted to watch, bingeing a new show was a no-brainer. That new show happened to be American Gods. This is a spoiler-free account of my thoughts on the show!
American Gods is a show on Starz based on Neil Gaiman’s book with the same name. Normally I’m one of those annoying people who go “but he didn’t actually say that, it’s different in the books!!!“, but recently I’ve let go of my prejudices when it comes to seeing the show first, which I’d like to credit to Game of Thrones. Shows based on books aren’t necessarily worse, and they can sometimes be a separate, but equally good, entity. The Handmaid’s Tale is another show that’s proven itself in that respect, and I think I’ll benefit more from reading the book after watching the show as opposed to reading it beforehand. In any case, I dove headfirst into the world of American Gods.
The premise of the show is really cool. Basically, all gods that in some way are still worshipped can be found in America, and there’s a war brewing between the old gods (what you’d normally think of when you think Gods – figures of mythology with the power to smite you) and the new gods (media, technology and so forth). As someone with a great interest in mythology, I thoroughly enjoy seeing the modern depictions of ancient gods, and personifications of the new ones. The show isn’t limited to a single mythology – we’re presented with Norse gods, Russian gods, and a plethora of Jesuses (pictured below), among others.
The show itself follows Shadow Moon (played by Ricky Whittle), an ex-convict who finds himself without a reason to live when he is released from prison, only to learn that his early release is prompted by the death of his wife, Laura, and best his friend, Robbie. He is then asked to work for a mysterious man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday, which he hesitantly agrees to. Suddenly, Shadow is thrown into a world full of madness, violence, and impossible things. He doesn’t know what to believe, and neither does the audience as we’re tossed between gods and mortals.
The story itself feels as if it’s layered – we can see what’s going on in the first two layers, but we also know that there’s more going on beneath the surface. Shadow himself seems to know this, but his boss refuses to clue him in. This leaves us, and Shadow, frustrated, but also wanting more. We want to find out what’s going on in this mysterious, dangerous world. and the shows producers know that. They’re playing off our confusion, having us eat out of their hands. It’s a technique that works in many cases – FX’s Legion was a show that used confusion to it’s advantage, and it was amazing because of it. It works for American Gods too – though I can’t help but feel slightly annoyed when Shadow, after going through his third or fourth dangerous and impossible encounter, is yet again denied any insight into what’s really going on. You can also tell that there’s a lot of setup for the second season.
This intricate story is accompanied by an accomplished cast, with big names like Gillian Anderson (The X-Files), Crispin Glover (Back to the Future), Ian McShane (Pirates of the Caribbean) and Emily Browning (Sucker Punch). The ladies of the cast are amazing; Gillian Anderson’s performance as Media is diverse, packed with references and expertly executed. Emily Browning’s portrayal of Laura Moon is strong and somber, giving us one of the show’s best characters. There are a lot of memorable performances in the show, which make watching worthwhile. We see “Pornstache” (Pablo Schreiber) from Orange is the New Black as a leprechaun, with a pretty bad Irish accent (still a fun character though!), and Peter Stormare yet again cast as a brawly Russian man. I’d say that one of the weaker performances is from Shadow himself – a lot of his time is spent simply reacting to all the crap that’s happening to him. On the other hand, what else can one do when surrounded by powerful gods and possible delusions?
When the cast and story combine, the show gives us some amazing scenes and scenarios. From slavery to the gun-worshipping societies in America today, the show touches upon all subjects associated with belief, leaving us with strong impressions and images to mull over long after we turn off the TV. These moments are what compels me to keep watching through my three-hour binge-headache, and what makes the show worth watching (aside from Anderson’s entertaining scenes).
For lovers of sex and violence, there’s a lot of that. I mostly saw the violence; for as long as I can remember, my dad has fast-forwarded through any scene where people kiss for longer than five seconds. So ladies devouring people with their vagina isn’t my dad’s thing, but people getting their spine kicked out of their body is!
Speaking of said violence, blood in the show is really red. It’s a cool stylistic choice, but it can also sometimes look like Kool-Aid. In general, the show has a lot of cool imagery. There are a bunch of nods to different gods, some subtle, some not. You never feel bored by the scenery, which is a big plus. However, the show’s music isn’t something I particularly enjoy. It ranges from ominous to annoying. Sure, it could be that they’re trying to instill an uncomfortable feeling in you, but I don’t think the accompanying headache is planned for.
All in all? American Gods isn’t a must-watch, but it’s pretty good. I probably wouldn’t have watched it if I couldn’t binge it, but fortunately the eight hour-long episodes fit nicely into a rainy day, and you won’t forget important details between episodes. The show is intriguing, and the build-up for the next season is huge. I know I’ll be bingeing it again in a year, with dad and snacks.
American Gods is on Starz and Amazon.com.
Thanks for reading!