American Gods is unlike anything I’ve ever watched before. Otherworldly, artistic, beautiful, ugly, violent and unhinged but just grounded enough to tease you into thinking you understand what’s happening. Having watched all eight episodes I still can’t really explain exactly what’s going on, but I do know that there’s something about American Gods that kept my attention.
Based on the Neil Gaiman 2001 novel of the same name, American Gods tells the tale of Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), an ex-con who is released from prison to discover his wife has been killed in a car accident. Shadow shortly finds himself approached by a man known only as Mr Wednesday (a delightfully obscure and quip happy Ian McShane), who offers Shadow a job as his assistant/bodyguard. To assist with what and from whom he requires protection he declines to reveal, but Shadow agrees nonetheless due to his damaged emotional state, whereupon he enters a world filled with Leprechauns, Djinn and gods both old and new.
American Gods can be devilishly hard to keep track of, some episodes are prefaced by short stories about gods who bear no importance to the plot until much later and answers to questions raised are few and far between. American Gods’ particular visual style doesn’t help matters either, though gorgeous to look at, the camera angles and movement coupled with the stylised scene transitions can leave you reeling as you try to figure out quite where you are and what you’re looking at.
But it’s this style that also serves as one of American Gods‘ greatest strengths, bright colours and surreal editorial effects forces viewers to constantly evaluate what’s real and what isn’t. If you’ve read anything to do with the show you’ll no doubt have heard about THAT sex scene in which a man is consumed whole via a lady’s downstairs area. And it’s scenes like that one that are just seemingly thrown in, without explanation or context. They just happen and then the story reverts back to whatever Shadow and Mr Wednesday are up to. Which I can imagine may irritate some viewers but personally it just intrigued me more about the greater mystery that surrounds American Gods and kept me watching from one episode to the next.
The show excels in its visual production and the writing suitably reflects the shows cynical dry wit, with exchanges between characters fast and razor sharp. Where the show falls down slightly is not so much to do with it’s lack of answers but lack of a satisfying conclusion to its first season. The show steadily builds momentum and pace but the last episode falls flat due to a rather tepid confrontation between the new and old gods and it makes no attempt to tie up any of the storylines introduced thus far.
The new gods are born of humanities devotion to technology, and as such are bright, colourful and bristle with electronic energy. They also appear to be utterly insane, but with that being said, some of the old gods seem just as unhinged. As a history and mythology fan, seeing so many cultures and beliefs explored in one show is a very exciting prospect and the existence of the new gods allows for some savvy social commentary.
Overall American Gods is off to a strong start and succeeds in providing one of the most unique and freshest TV shows in recent history, though let down by its first finale there’s plenty of potential for a second season to really kick things up a gear and deliver some of the best TV going.