American Gods is the dark fantasy television event of the year. Perhaps even more of an event than Game of Thrones Season 7. This ain’t a song of fire and ice, it’s a battle of old Gods and new.
Based on the critically acclaimed novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman, expectations have been set exceedingly high, and not just because Gaiman’s works translate so well to screen. (Just look at Stardust – perhaps the best example, even more so than The Godfather - of a film being better than the book.)
Given the people who are bringing the source material to the screen, there is a lot of pressure for American Gods to succeed. These names include Bryan Fuller; creator, screenwriter and executive producer of Hannibal – the raw, bloody flavour of whom is evident in this recipe. Michael Green, screenwriter of the recent Marvel hit Logan, is co-creator.
Translating this blend of Americana, fantasy and mythology into a different medium is no small task. Fuller and Green have eight episodes to tell the story of a truly epic battle, and here’s a quick rundown: It’s a war between the old Gods, who came to America with colonisers who believed in them; and the new Gods, who have been birthed by people. By what people in believe in now.
The less humanity worships (or remembers) the old Gods, the less power they have. And the more we worship the objects that give the new gods power – the internet, television news, the invisible hand of the market – the stronger they grow. (It remains to be seen whether Fuller and Green have managed to work in the new Gods, Fake News and Alternative Facts).
Eight hours isn’t that much time for a story with this many moving parts, when you consider that the four Transformers movies to-date have resulted in ten-and-a-half hours of cars beating each other up.
But after watching the first episode, titled The Bone Orchard, the audience should have faith that this adaptation is in capable hands. Episode one is all about gore, gods and grief, starting and finishing with buckets of bright red blood.
The ‘astoundingly improbably named’ Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) is waiting out the last few days until he will be released from prison and reunited with his wife, Laura (Emily Browning). But then Laura is killed in a car accident, and so Moon is released just a few days early.
On the flight to his wife’s funeral, he meets the smooth-talking Mr Wednesday (Ian McShane), who keeps following Moon offering him a job – until he accepts. Or rather, until a possibly magical coin toss means our protagonist ends up in the employ – as driver, as bodyguard, as whatever is required of a man who is definitely up to something.
And so Shadow Moon steps into a new world.
That new world is slowly being revealed to Shadow in episode one, but by the end of this first hour he knows something is up. If being beaten to a pulp by a mad giant-Leprechaun, Mad Sweeny (Pablo Schreiber) wasn’t enough of a giveaway, then meeting the pixelated face of Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) and his Clockwork Orange-esque Droogs certainly would be.
The audience is also treated to a few vignettes as the episode progresses; including a scene that introduces the goddess of love, Bilquis (Yetide Badaki). It’s a scene that lets you know what is to come from the rest of the season, as far as creepy sex is concerned.
Ricky Whittle’s performance is stoic and tense. One gets the sense that his character could snap at any moment. But it’s hard for mysterious and taciturn characters to become the fan favourites, when there’s quick-talking men like Ian McShane’s Mr Wednesday around. He’s sleazy, he’s greasy, he’s a liar, he’s a conman. He steals the show, obviously.
The writing is strong and the violence is over-the-top, but what really makes this Bryan Fuller’s baby is the hallucinatory and often unsettling special effects. The episode is a warped combination of horror, comedy, drama and psychedelia, where the colours are saturated and the neon signs are plentiful.
The eclectic visual style and the rich cinematography make this a pleasure to watch, even when we’re watching people being decapitated. There are also a few clever tricks to lighten the dark mood, such as a disembodied arm cutting outside the screen’s aspect ratio.
One hour of American Gods down. Seven more to go. Who knows how many more gallons of fake blood to come.
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