“American Gods” is a sensual opiate. A flood of rich textures of the American experience are conjured in dreams and memories that echo around the story of a conflict brewing. As ex-convict Shadow Moon and his mysterious employer Mr Wednesday trace the back road portrait of the surface of America the frenzied sacrifice that fuels the older gods are like dizzying visions into a world happening on the fringes of the world we know.
Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name imagines a world where the old gods of the European and African continents have made the migrant journey to America and been steadily eclipsed by the idols of modern existence. The last remaining figures are survived by the whispers of superstition instead of choruses of sacrifice and dedication of their glory days. Their new foes are fuelled by the addictions of modern existence such as technology and media. Shadow is drawn into this fray at the service of Mr Wednesday.
When Bryan Fuller’s “Hannibal” series ended at the culmination of its third season, completing its revision of Thomas Harris’ “Red Dragon” novel, it left a yawning hole in what seems to be a never-ending tide of Television. Elevating the police procedural to the realms of horrific art, its absence meant that Fuller (“Six Feet Under”) became even hotter property to helm another project. Up next it seemed like he’d make a “Star Trek” fan out of non-believers such as myself with “Discovery,” but thanks to ‘creative differences’ Fuller and series co-creator Michael Green are full steam ahead on the adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s sensational novel of the same name.
The series begins with Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), patiently waiting mere days to serve out a prison sentence; when suddenly he’s released early. It’s not some kind of reward for good behaviour, tragically, his wife Laura (Emily Browning) has died in a car accident. On the way back to his home town in an excruciatingly slow journey home Shadow encounters Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) who offers him a job serving as his driver and right hand.
Shadow Moon goes through a significant awakening throughout the series and Ricky Whittle’s early performance is one of restraint and inquisition. Writers Fuller and Green (who serve as the writers on all eight episodes of the series) carefully unfurl the players in the impending conflict and make sense of the visions we see as the story progresses.
Mr. Wednesday is the most important character in the novel and casting Ian McShane in the role is the stroke of genius that provides a high water mark for the entire diverse array of performers to strive toward. McShane drips with charm, to the point that despite the fact that he’s consistently up against it in his discussions and negotiations; until you realise that he’s in absolute control. He’s such a masterful performer, who when presented with grade ‘A’ material (“Deadwood”) is such an undeniable force.
David Slade directs the opening episodes of the series and brings an aesthetic that’s probably best described as a languid, polished grotesque. Yetide Badaki plays Bilquis and we’re introduced to quickly courting unsuspecting fools and taking them to bed to worship at the altar of her womanhood. The gods of old require sacrifice; the impulses that we coddle in courtesy and that civilisation represses are their currency. Bilquis must not only accept the sexual worship, the accepting vessel will consume you. It’s terrifying and erotic.
Craig Zobel (“Compliance”) is handed the lens in the fourth episode of the series and it changes the pace significantly. This episode explores Laura Moon (Emily Browning) from before her life with Shadow until her death. We’re embraced by the compromised core of the woman that so captivated Shadow. The tempo change brings a necessary dose of ugly reality that by the time it converges with the more fantastical elements of the story you feel refreshed and start to see the characters differently.
In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, author Neil Gaiman revealed that the eight episode run of the series “doesn’t get a third of the way through the book.” If Fuller’s previous work on “Hannibal” is any indication, we’re in for an unforgettable and staggeringly good adaptation. I’ll be off now to perform a sacrifice to get a sneak peek at the final for episodes of series one.
American Gods will premiere on Amazon Prime Video on May 1, 2017. Customers who are not already Amazon Prime Video members can sign up for a free 7-day trial at PrimeVideo.com.