Starz’s American Gods, based on Neill Gaiman’s popular novel, is a dark and humorous exploration of the power of belief that has been brought to life on the small screen.
In the world of American Gods, the many people that have immigrated to America throughout the centuries have brought their gods with them in the form of belief. But as time passes, the old gods begin to lose power as their once devout worshippers turn to new idols, such as industry and fame.
The first season follows two central characters--Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) and his enigmatic employer, Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane). Shadow Moon is a disenchanted, straight-forward man who has lived a life of harsh reality and believes in nothing. Mr.Wednesday is a mysterious, talented con artist who convinces Moon to become his new bodyguard. With Moon in tow, Mr. Wednesday begins his journey across the country, recruiting old gods in an attempt to defeat and overthrow the new gods.
Having grown up in the 21st century these new deities should seem intimately familiar:
Technical Boy, the god of the internet, is the youngest and most impulsive of the new gods.
Treated as a child, he is impatient to prove himself, but still, has much to learn about his role in the American pantheon. The other new gods struggle to keep Technical Boy’s thirst for power contained.
Media is the many-faced new goddess of television and takes on several famous forms in the first season. She plays a very important role in both the plot, as well as the cultural message of the show. She acts as the public representative of the new gods, constantly advancing their ideals subliminally through popular entertainment. On a cultural level, she is a disturbingly alluring embodiment of the addictive headline culture that we have grown to worship.
American Gods is a rare phenomenon in which the TV series actually surpasses the book. It contains all the intrigue and weird goings-on while adding more depth to previously minor characters. Bilquis (Yetide Badaki), the ancient African goddess of sex and desire, who appeared in a mere five pages of the book, is now a prominent character. Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber), the foul-mouthed 7-foot tall leprechaun, also (thankfully) gets more attention. His comedic pot of gold now off-set with a sweet, tear-jerking backstory. And Laura Moon (Emily Browning), Shadow’s not-so-dead wife, and perhaps the most underused character of the novel is now a kick-ass protagonist. Readers never knew Laura while she was alive, and her background episode, “Git Gone” reveals that she is far more alive in death than in life.
The integral question the show seems to ask is “What do you believe in?” On the surface, this is presented through Shadow Moon, our mortal conduit into the story; in his turbulent journey towards believing more than what he knows. Beyond him, we are faced with villainous but oddly accurate portrayals of modern society through the new gods, and we are pushed to ask ourselves if these idols are worth our time and devotion. Seeing what we consider to be mere distractions personified as our gods is a very alien experience. American Gods uses that to shock us into awareness of exactly where we devote our attention.
American Gods makes some very ambitious promises in its first season, and after seeing it in full, I think it has delivered on them all. Old fans will definitely enjoy the superbly cast performances for each colorful character and the volumes of rich new backstory. New fans will love the merciless visual impact and beautifully executed narrative. These elements combine to create a compelling and unpredictable story that has proven worthy of worship.
Season 2 of American Gods is expected in 2018.