I’ve been on board with the TV adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods for three years now, ever since it was first announced that Hannibal creator Bryan Fuller was attached to develop the property.
I just watched the first episode of the show, and boy did it live up to my expectations.
For those who come into the series not having read the book, they will likely find the series opaque and hard to follow at first. This is a feature, not a bug. The Gaiman novel itself is largely meandering and obtuse, a very slow build filled with imagery and iconography and storytelling that is about a feeling more than a particular story.
The visual language of American Gods is as dense and consciously depicted as anything we’ve ever seen on TV, with director David Slade (who previously collaborated with Bryan Fuller on Hannibal) filling the screen with provocative violent and sexual imagery, with colors and images plucked out of religion, American history, a visual tapestry that is simultaneously overwhelming and bewildering. The surrealistic, almost hallucinatory visual style is such that it’s not obvious what elements are meant to be realistic and grounded, and what elements are meant to be magical or fantastical. Again, this might be a bug to some who need a clear understanding of which elements fall into each category, but to me, this felt like a feature, a reminder that while the world of American Gods might resemble our own, it’s a parallel world.
On a more grounded plane of existence is the sublime performance of Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday, who book readers will welcome as one of the most important characters in the story. Ian McShane has proven himself time and again to be one of TV’s premiere hams; he has a way with wordplay and has a way of leaving an indelible impression. Although American Gods‘ cast features a laundry list of terrific actors, it’s hard to imagine any actor who will be able to steal a scene out from under McShane.
This show is playing in a particular palette of style, imagery, and theme that is largely unmatched in TV and film today, and I am 100% on board for everything that American Gods has to offer. American Gods is an audacious novel and it’s satisfying to see an equally audacious TV show that is up to the challenge.