American Gods Review: Shadow Moon’s Wild Ride Begins

After watching the American Gods pilot, it was clear to me that Starz had another winner on its hands. Trust me, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet, people!

Bringing together Neil Gaiman’s imagination and the twisted mind/aesthetic of Bryan Fuller was not only a stroke of genius, but an absolute match made in Heaven. Having screened the first four episodes of Starz’s latest hit series, I can’t imagine another showrunner bringing American Gods to life in the unique way Fuller has. Even if you have not read the novel, which I have not, the story is easy enough to follow. It’s sexy, violent and ambitious, with characters that are larger than life.

American Gods - Episode 101 "The Bone Orchard"
Courtesy of STARZ
Ian McShane is an icon, but boy is his performance as Mr. Wednesday absolutely mind-blowing. Sure, there are familiar faces like McShane, Gillian Anderson, Orlando Jones, Kristin Chenoweth, Corbin Bernsen and Crispin Glover, but the relative newcomers Ricky Whittle, Emily Browning, Bruce Langley and Pablo Schreiber shine just as brightly. The series is not only wonderfully cast, with a truly diverse group of actors, but each one brings their ‘A’ game elevating each and every scene. When a series is as overhyped as this one, there’s always a chance it might disappoint. Well, American Gods delivers the goods and is definitely in the same league as Black Sails, Outlander, Da Vinci’s Demons and Spartacus.

The opening credit sequence and music perfectly set the tone for a one-of-a-kind viewing experience. That first shot of the pen being dipped in ink, instantly reminded me of Fuller’s “Hannibal.” Which was a show that was artistically executed, yet ridiculously gruesome delivering a dichotomy I’d never really experienced before on television. While I’m still disappointed by its cancellation, #Fannibals can take some comfort in the fact similar visuals help bring American Gods to life.

The Viking sequence was as gloriously bloody as anything seen on Spartacus, some folks might argue more violent. That one Viking being nailed by dozens of arrows in a matter of seconds was insane. Bodies and heads being split in half… blood splashing everywhere. Talk about opening the series with a memorable scene, right? Is it me, or did that carving of the Allfather look like Ian McShane? Was that our first hint that Mr. Wednesday’s actually the Norse God Odin? Wednesday later mentioned he’s only got one good eye.

American Gods - Episode 101 "The Bone Orchard"
Courtesy of STARZ
It didn’t take long for us to meet our protagonist, Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), who is not your typical “hero.” The guy is an ex-con, so does that make him the anti-hero? What crime did he commit? Was he guilty as charged? Shadow claimed to not believe in anything he couldn’t see, but felt that something was coming. Boy was he right about that. I wasn’t sure what to make of the vision of his wife, the skulls in the forest or the buffalo with fire for eyes. I’m assuming we’ll learn more as we go along. Were they premonitions? The way shadow learned of his wife’s death was awful, even though he was released from prison early. Was Laura Moon having an affair with his buddy, Robbie? I was only fifteen minutes into the first episode and already terribly curious about the characters, their motivations and where the story was headed. For example, inmate Low Key (Jonathan Tucker) was a bit of a creepster, but will he be revealed to be Loki the trickster God?

It was clear the universe was simultaneously screwing with and had bigger plans for Shadow Moon… Enter Ian McShane’s Mr. Wednesday, who we met conning the lady at the airport ticket counter. If it weren’t for the man’s matter of fact demeanor, I’d have a hard time believing anything Wednesday had to say. The guy is extremely likeable though, so I’m sure he would have eventually won me over as he did with Shadow. When Shadow told him he’s the first person he’d talked to that wasn’t an asshole and Wednesday replied, “Give me time” the character became my instant fave. What a fun relationship the two characters are going to have. Their first interaction and conversation on the plane was brilliantly entertaining. Like Game of Thrones or Westworld, the dialogue here reveals so many wonderful details yet never feels like forced exposition.

American Gods - Episode 101 "The Bone Orchard"
Courtesy of STARZ
Randomly meeting up with Mr. Wednesday at the bar should have raised a red flag. Their bathroom encounter was odd to say the least, and just plain strange that Wednesday showed such interest in Shadow. It was a little hard to believe Shadow decided his future based on a coin toss. He probably should have trusted his intuition. Leprechaun Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber), showed up in time to cause a little chaos. After a scuffle like that, it’s no wonder Mr. Wednesday chose Shadow as a bodyguard. I had a feeling Sweeney’s coin was going to come into play later.

It was cool of Wednesday to offer Shadow take all the time he needed to mourn his wife. I didn’t expect Robbie’s wife to lay it on so thick. She was out of control, wasn’t she? Of course if what she claimed was true, I’d be pissed too. Did Laura Moon really die with Robbie’s cock in her mouth? Ouch! Were they having an affair or was it a one-night deal? It was all fairly tragic and I needed answers stat, which is the sign of great writing.

American Gods - Episode 101 "The Bone Orchard"
Courtesy of STARZ
When Goddess of love, Bilquis (Yetide Badaki), swallowed up that old dude you got a real sense this series is like nothing on television. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a vagina swallow up a grown man. What?!?! Yeah, American Gods is cray cray and I fuckin’ love it!!! I can’t imagine what insanity the show will throw our way next.

Technical Boy (Bruce Langley)’s attack was unexpected. For a moment, I had no clue what was going on. Was it a vision? Nope, this time it was really happening. What was up with those guys without faces? The final sequence was pretty brutal, but who slaughtered the faceless minions and saved Shadow? Bet you can’t wait for Episode 2, right?

Verdict…

American Gods got my attention straight away, and it doesn’t let up I’ve got to tell you. It’s a shame the first season only consists of eight episodes. Hopefully, Starz renews the show for a second season and they start shooting quickly. The wait between seasons is an excruciatingly frustrating one. There’s something to be said for not having read the book, as everything about Gaiman’s world and the story is a total surprise. Have you read American Gods? If so, do you feel they’ve captured the essence of the novel? In the past, I’ve gone into a series like Syfy’s The Expanse having read the book it’s based on and found myself anticipating specific scenes. You have certain expectations and can’t help comparing the characters in your head to the actors playing those roles. Luckily, The Expanse delivered in every way for me and it’s a show I highly recommend. I’d love to know how book readers feel about the American Gods pilot. Did you love it, hate it or need to see more episodes before forming an opinion? Please share your feedback below…

American Gods airs Sundays at 9/8c on STARZ.

  • Interdimensional Dave

    I can’t imagine in a million years Joel Murray, the “old dude” that got “swallowed” by Bilquis, ever thought he would be in a role like that. He played Freddy Rumsen in Mad Men. Quite the departure!

    Ian McShane was brilliant as were the visuals. I’d give the episode a three out of five though. Not enough “Sturm” but plenty of “Drang”. I would love to go to that bar though!