American Gods: Episodes 1-4 (TV Series)

Developed by Bryan Fuller and Michael Green

Starring Ricky Whittle, Emily Browning, Ian McShane, Pablo Schreiber

Airing on Starz


I wasn’t really excited for the “American Gods” show. I know, great idea to start off my review by alienating 90% of my readers. Neil Gaiman holds a hallowed spot in the hearts of fantasy fans the world round, and for good reason. Gaiman builds worlds with an elegance and depth that is simply captivating. I’ll always remember him most fondly for the iconic The Sandman graphic novel series, which along with Watchmen became the foundation for my love of comics.

But I’ve always felt just lukewarm on American Gods. Maybe it’s because I had to read it in college, where excess discourse over symbolic minutia sucks the life out of even the most vibrant works. Or perhaps this just stems from my overall fatigue with TV adaptations, the present day equivalent of the found footage craze.

In any case, I went into “American Gods” expecting I’d have to crack open another bottle of vodka to get through it. It took three minutes for “American Gods” to change my mind. This show has enough blood and dismemberment to show a cenobite a thing or two. I tend to watch these things on my laptop at my local beer bar, and I actually shut it off because the amount of violence was making people look at me funny. Heads explode, spines erupt from bodies, fountains of crimson cover people in gore, and an evil hooker eats people with her vagina. And that’s just the first episode.

I always feel silly having to do spoiler-free reviews of shit when the source material is freely available. If you really want to know the plot twists and turns of “American Gods,” read the book. Or the Wikipedia page. Yes, I know shows can diverge from the source material, but the broad strokes are generally the same. However, the good people at Starz have asked me to please keep this spoiler-free, and since the show doesn’t even premiere until April 30th, I’m inclined to accept their terms. So don’t worry; I won’t let slip any specifics in my coming synopsis. If you want to see the official synopses for each episode, check them out here.

I know that somewhere out there exist people who still read books, but as a millennial I’m just going to take the safe bet and assume you haven’t read American Gods. The basic premise is that the gods of old mythology still exist and are wandering around America trying to make the best of things. As people no longer believe in them, they are shadows of their former glory, while new gods representing things like media and the free market have risen to power. Unwittingly drawn into this conflict is protagonist Shadow Moon, an ex-con recently released from prison. Following the tragic death of his wife and best friend, he enters the employ of Mr. Wednesday, a charismatic, yet mysterious god on a quest to unite the Old Gods for something major. As they travel the country, they meet a number of memorable characters, like the brutal Czernobog and the enjoyably brash Mad Sweeney.

And that’s really all the synopsis I can give without getting into specifics, which is fine because the actual plot is only about 20% of what makes “American Gods” memorable. The world of “American Gods” is broad and diverse, and exploring it as a viewer is the most rewarding part. Each episode contains a series of vignettes outside of the main plot, exposing the lives and workings of characters unrelated to Shadow and Mr. Wednesday’s journey. Whether all of these characters will be brought into the plot has yet to be seen, but each serves as its own self-contained story introducing you to the nuances of this world. Easily my favorite so far was the Jinn, which left me both moved and curious.

Speaking of the Jinn, this show also has lots of dicks. As in literal penises. I knew that this being a Starz show, I was in for a certain amount of titties/wang, but the propensity for penis did catch me off guard. Big ol’ hard ones too. And you know what? Good for Starz. It’s been too long that women have been forced to live up to unrealistic standards by watching the ample bare breasts of Playboy models and the perfectly toned abs of superstar vixens. Now I have to live up to the unrealistic CG dongs of the “Gods.” It’s only fair.

The colorful characters are really brought to life by the exceptional cast. Ian McShane is of course great as always, as is the wonderful Peter Stormare, who portrays the vile Czernobog. Ricky Whittle does a great job of selling the confused, skeptical wonder of Shadow Moon, making this totally foreign world feel more human and grounded. The person who really blew me away was Emily Browning as Laura Moon. She gets her own episode that flips your understanding of the characters on its head. The supporting cast is all fantastic, and a more cynical side of me can definitely see a Mr. Nancy/Anansi Boys spin-off in the future.

So far there has yet to be a weak moment. It’s hard to get me to sit still for four hours, but I was hooked on “American Gods” for all four of the preview episodes. I as a rule try not to give high scores to things without seeing how it all turns out in the end, but I just can’t wait for more. Check it out as soon as it’s available on April 30th.

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Ted Hentschke

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