Based on the novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman, American Gods is one of the best TV series in a year that’s had a lot of great TV so far. With arguably the strongest, and most self-assured first season I’ve ever seen, American Gods bursts into existence with a fantastically realised vision of what sort of show it wants to be. At once witty and melancholy, life affirming and terrifying, fantastical, and yet so astonishingly real.
The series keeps the viewer on their toes, trying something different every single episode, introducing new characters, new concepts, flashing back years, centuries, even millennia, spending entire episodes with completely new characters and settings, and in the process creating a world that is so perfectly fleshed out that it feels almost tangible. And while one can’t help but feel that this first series is little more than a set up for the second, it’s a masterfully executed setup that had me captivated the whole way through.
The central plot focuses on Ricky Whittle’s Shadow Moon, a recently released Convict who, after being let out a couple of days early after the untimely passing of his wife Laura, (Played by Emily Browning) is quickly drawn into a strange and decidedly uncanny world of eccentric and extremely powerful individuals, by the enigmatic Mr Wednesday. (Perfectly portrayed by the legendary Ian McShane) From there, things only get stranger and more dangerous, as Shadow and Wednesday come into conflict with the New Gods, Technical Boy and Media, (Bruce Langley and Gillian Anderson) and their leader, the immensely ominous Mr World, played by Crispin Glover. As Mr Wednesday begins to gather his forces, travelling across America meeting all manner ancient deities hiding in the Modern World, a cataclysmic battle seems imminent…
The acting is more or less superb across the board, with standouts being Ian McShane’s Mr Wednesday, at once lovable and terrifying, filled with all the titillating mystery one would expect from a thousand-year-old god, Emily Browning, who is at once eminently hateable, tragically sympathetic, and thoroughly fascinating as Laura Moon, and Pablo Schreiber who is a constant delight as Mad Sweeney, the lovably crass leprechaun, and while the actor himself isn’t actually Irish, he does a good enough job in the role that I’m willing to look past that. (Just this once…) But special props have to be given to Gillian Anderson as Media, who steals every single scene she’s in, and manages to keep a clear picture of who the character is, despite playing a different persona in every appearance. It’s a truly unique and perfectly executed performance, and frankly worth the price of admission all by itself. Other notable performances come from Yetide Badaki as Bilquis, who provides a stellar performance throughout the series, though we only really see her character’s real depth towards the end, Chris Obi as Anubis, who along with Demore Barnes’ Mr Ibis, act as a pleasant yet macabre neutral party, watching quietly as the carnage unfolds in a manner fitting to the God of Death, and Omid Abtahi, as the upliftingly optimistic Salim, who never failed to bring a smile to my face.
The visuals are just as flawlessly realised and self-confident as the show itself. Overtly surreal, and over the top, they perfectly capture the sense of an ancient myth come to life in the modern world, with gushing torrents of bright red gore, endlessly stretching roads, orchards of bone, fire-breathing bison, and perhaps the most fantastical sex scene ever put to screen. With astonishing attention to detail, and fervent creativity, the show seamlessly blends real Americana with its own twisted and uncanny fantasy. It draws the viewer in, yet simultaneously creates an air of mild discomfort, as they notice all the uncanny dissimilarities, little things that are just slightly off, or unreal, that tell the viewer that all is not as it seems, and greater powers are indeed at play.
The dialogue, too, ably shifts from real and recognisably human when we see the lives of Shadow and Laura, to the sweeping and dramatic rhetoric of the gods, when Mr Wednesday is conversing with his fellow deities, and it all plays a key part in enabling the viewer to keep up their suspension of disbelief. (A tricky enough prospect in a show as deliberately unreal as this.)
At the end of the day, American Gods is well-written, well-acted, and well shot. But it’s so much more than that. Simply put, there is nothing else quite like it. Everything, from the characters to the visuals, to the structure in which it is presented, is so utterly unique that it makes the series worth watching for that reason alone. That it is not just unique, but also brilliant, is just icing on the cake.