TV Review: American Gods Season 1

I was ridiculously excited for this since the announcement last year. Imagine my initial disappointment at seeing it would only appear on Hulu and Amazon Prime in the UK and then imagine one day I accidentally signed up for Amazon Prime. Well, why not take the opportunity to take a peek?

Premise

Shadow Moon is released from prison a little early after both his wife and best friend are killed in a car crash. The revelation hits him hard, as does the revelation that they were having an affair. What does a released convict with nobody left in the world do next? Well, lucky enough for him he meets a strange man on the plane who offers him a chance at a new life to travel The US of A meeting his friends for a gathering. He will meet people with strange names and equally strange powers on the move trying to warn him off. Oh and his dead wife is following him.

Amazon Prime screen grab: Fair Use 2017

What I Liked

Casting: Top notch, cannot fault it. Aside from a few aesthetic changes (I imagined Shadow a bit more rugged than the pretty Ricky Whittle, Laura Moon a little older than Emily Browning, Mister Nancy as a large hulk of a man) these things matter little in context. They nailed the characters, every time. Full credit to everyone involved. I can’t really put a cigarette paper between them, except one…

Gillian Anderson: A special note goes to Dana Scully for pulling off a great Martha Stewart and an equally great David Bowie. Yes, you read that right. Gillian Anderson played Mrs Media, and boy did she seem to have fun with that. She’s quite a funny and quirky person that it’s hard to realise that when judging her solely on X-Files, Bleak House and Great Expectations. We saw a side of Anderson we rarely ever see.

Visceral: The book implied gay sex and how Bilquis dealt with her victims in the book, but only in the film did we see the details that most television shows would still fear to demonstrate on screen. Hats off to the producers for not panning away, for showing us every detail. Gaiman’s work is sometimes dark and edgy; most people don’t realise how much, but this effectively creates the essence of his style.

Metaphor: The art of screen storytelling is losing something. Visual metaphors and similes aren’t used as much as they could or should, perhaps sadly reduced to art house films and accused (more often than not) of pretentiousness. This uses simple and effective visuals to convey some great metaphors. The visuals are generally impressive but only with the subtext do they really stand out.

What I Didn’t Like

Pacing: I read through some of the one-star reviews on Amazon and I must say I see their point on the pacing. Personally, I love a slow build-up but this felt a little slow in places. Those unfamiliar with the book were clearly exasperated with the lack of anything happening. Accusations of “pretentiousness” are harsh but not completely unfair. Sometimes, the visual metaphors took too much precedence.

Confusing to an unfamiliar audience: The creators missed a trick in failing to adequately grasp the necessity to explain what is going on. I’ve read the book (twice) so I knew. If I wasn’t, I’m sure I would have been confused. Perhaps appealing too much to a familiar audience, the creators alienated a large section of it. It means there is a large group of people now who will never read this fantastic book, and that’s a shame.

The cliffhanger: When Mister Wednesday tells us who he is, it should come as a surprise to nobody. It’s a cliffhanger that falls flat on its face. I can’t imagine that there are enough people in the world so unfamiliar with the character he is playing to have an “OMG!” moment. I figured it out in the book when he first introduced himself. I have to question the logic of this revelation at the end of season 1.

Ricky Whittle: Now, I said above that the casting was great – and it was. The problem is that this is a book full of big characters. Shadow is largely quiet and stoic, keeping his feelings to himself. While Whittle pulls this off, he doesn’t quite seem to keep up with the big personalities. Perhaps it’s his screen presence, but we never get the sense of gravitas from him – because he is so outshone.

Verdict

I loved it! It was everything I hoped and thought it would be, and more. The casting was inspired, the story spot on, the characterisation as big as I could have hoped. I loved the interplay between Laura Moon (Emily Browning) and Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber). Gillian Anderson was highly entertaining though pacing could have been better. These are minor flaws though and I can’t wait until 2018 to get the second and presumably final season.

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