Enjoy this Monday with Mildred!
I know I’ve read this book, but that was twenty years ago and there have been many books since then. So, I have a vague remembrance of weird and twisty goings on, with lots of characters who were obviously Old Gods hiding out. I also remember being a little disappointed in the book because I was used to Neil Gaiman being a little better. Not that I disliked it, just that it wasn’t as good as I’d hoped it would be. This is actually the best way to view the series American Gods, because I have an idea what it should be but no hard set expectations.
And this show is really good. The first thing you’ll notice is how perfectly it’s cast, from the hulking but sensitive Shadow Moon, to the seven foot leprechaun, to the beautiful mimicry of Gillian Anderson’s Media (only one letter off from Medea, and you have to wonder if Gaiman did that on purpose). Even the bartender at the Crocodile Bar, which you have to see to believe, is perfectly cast like all the other small roles. We’ve all met this world-weary-bartender-with-a-heart-of-gold at some time in our life.
Gaiman brilliantly combined the attributes of the old gods to American foibles in his book, but on the screen that dichotomy really comes alive, with my favorite being how Vulcan is handled. Hilarious, with a frightening ring of truth, more now than when it was written. The show’s success with melding ancient with cutting edge modern has a lot to do with how much the showrunners rely on Gaiman himself to lend his perspective to their show.
The Coming to America sequences seem to work better on screen than in the book, possibly because it’s really obvious how the short pieces help tie the larger work together, and because each one is as beautifully crafted as the series as a whole. Beyond serving to advance and meld the plots, they’re also great for introducing characters that may or may not be important later, but that we really should be aware of. From the bloody and violent very first Coming to America to the poignant story of the old woman on a stool in her kitchen, each short piece is good enough to stand on its own.
Something you will become aware of quickly is how solidly produced the show is. The showrunners have a very good guide in the original novel, but this show is theirs and they make sure every detail is sumptuously rendered, and they’re up front with expecting us to keep up with them rather than treating the viewers like dainty morons who have to be spoon fed every idea so we can keep up. That’s really refreshing. An example is the sex scenes in the first episodes of the season. Both are beautifully rendered, graphic, and not something you would ever expect to see on television. If you listen to the commentary you’ll find out they did that on purpose to weed out the weaker viewers. If someone can’t make it past those scenes, they won’t be able to handle the deeper social and religious messages later.
Art and cinematography on American Gods is beyond great. Every episode has the feel of a big budget Hollywood film. There is not one weak spot in the acting, and the music is always right on the spot. I found myself amazed again and again at how well-crafted the show is, especially with special effects that run the gamut from nearly invisible to spectacular, for television.
Though on the whole a super solid and well thought out adaptation, there are a few weak spots. For instance, Media takes on the forms of Lucille Ball, David Bowie and Marilyn Monroe in season one, which is great if you’re an older person like me and instantly recognize them as historically significant, but I wondered how much is lost on anyone younger than forty. And with how much media has bled into technology since the book was written, the show’s insistence on keeping Media and Technical Boy as separate entities can grate just a tad. Though I will confide that I’m reaaaaaallllly hoping they’ll have Gillian Anderson do Dana Scully for one of Media’s incarnations.* The storytelling seems to meander for most of the first season, which can get a little frustrating if you’re not binge watching. I remember this as a problem in the book as well.
If you can take intense and nonconformist sex scenes, violence and gore, massively non-standard ideas about religion, and swipes at American society, you will enjoy American Gods very much. I came to it a little late, and happy about it, because that means I’ll be seeing season two sooner.
American Gods | First Look Trailer | STARZ
American Gods | official trailer #2 (2017) Neil Gaiman
Abandoned in America | American Gods
*CFR: In Addition: Yes, yes, a thousand times YES!!!!!