American Gods: 1.01 The Bone Orchard
What if the gods of myth were real? What if they hadn't died out, but emigrated to America? What if they exist in modern times, struggling to eek out enough belief and power to go on existing? That is the premise in the adaptation of Neil Gaiman's bestselling novel American Gods. Written by Hannibal scribe Brian Fuller and lavished with anticipation, fans have been waiting for this apparently unadaptable mythological road movie for years.
Shadow Moon, played by Ricky Whittle once of Hollyoaks, is a convict on the verge of release, a man on the brink of change. Change in every way possible. He's just excited to get back to his wife and have a normal life. Neither of these things are an option for him; not ever again. Wife dead and best friend dead, job gone, all hope lost; a storm has descended upon him. Or rather a storm god.
Ian McShane delights as Mr Wednesday, a day of the week named after his true self. A god, Norse in origin, even if his accent is a little more well-travelled than that. A con-man, keen to recruit Shadow for his nefarious deeds and take him on a journey across the mythic landscape of America.
On this journey we meet Bilquis, the man-eating love goddess from Ashkenazi folklore and formerly the Queen of Sheba. We meet Mad Sweeney, a giant of a leprechaun, revelling in revelry and the love of a good fight. And Shadow meets Wednesday's opposition, in the form of the The Technical Kid, one of the new gods keen to sweep away the past. It's quite the dramatis personae, all ripped from the pages of Gaiman's novel and given a modern gloss.
Bloodier, more brutal than its literary predecessor, but also more sumptuous and compelling, drawing visual inspiration from Game of Thrones, this show screams production values. But the increase in blood and gore has left some audiences displeased, both fans of the original work, and newcomers to the material. Newcomers are struggling in particular, in some cases finding the plot impenetrable without context and explanation. Clearly this was an intentional decision, to allow the audience to follow Shadow's journey, to share his confusion, and to learn with him. But it's a decision that has left some viewers baffled.
For those who love the book, other than the increase in blood, the first episode adheres fairly closely to the first two chapters of the novel. Perhaps Ricky Whittle struggles a bit when Shadow's dialogue goes from grunts to quoting Herodotus, but visually, physically, he carries the role well. Ian McShane is perfect for the role, and we still have the excellent Peter Stormare, Crispin Glover and Gillian Anderson to look forward to.
Overall, there's a lot to like about American Gods. It's going to be quite a journey for Shadow, and for us all. Will it be the next Game of Thrones? That's unlikely; for a start there's so far only one novel so far. But, if given a chance, it's likely to be quite the visual feast.