From the first preview at San Diego Comic Con 2016, American Gods has been one of the most highly anticipated TV shows of 2017. This is no surprise given the talent involved. Ignoring the hordes of Neil Gaiman fans who have been anxiously awaiting a proper television adaption of anything by The Sandman scribe, the original novel was adapted for the small screen by popular producers Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies, Hannibal and Heroes) and Michael Green (Smallville, Everwood and Heroes). Throw in a spattering of cult-favorite actors with large followings (I personally know five musical theater geeks who will watch anything Kristin Chenoweth is in) and you have a series that has a large ready-made audience.
The first trailer established the same status quo of the original novel’s dust-jacket. Shadow Moon is a big man who tends to discourage people from giving him trouble. Trouble found him, however, and he was sent to jail. Despite this, Shadow wasn’t bothered because his wife Laura remained loyal and his best friend said he’d have a job waiting for him once he served his time. Unfortunately, a car accident killed them both just a few days before Shadow’s sentence was due to end.
On the way to Laura’s funeral, Shadow is approached by a man who introduces himself as Mister Wednesday and offers Shadow a job. From there, Shadow is exposed to the world of the gods of Old, the new gods of America and the war between them that is starting to brew like so much summer’s mead.
This first episode of American Gods explains all this in detail, recreating the first two chapters and interludes of the original novel. Gaiman fans will be pleased to find that much of the original dialogue remains intact, though Fuller and Green have built upon the original text. There are little touches, here and therem that do more to develop the characters than the original novel. Chief among these are a brief scene in which we see Mr. Wednesday running a con in the airport before he makes the acquaintance of Shadow and a brilliant sequence following the funeral that showcases Shadow’s sense of honor and compassion.
The relationship between Shadow and Mr. Wednesday takes center-stage in this episode and if nothing else proves the talent of the casting team, the pairing of Ian McShane with Ricky Whittle does. Whittle turns Shadow, who was something of a cipher in the original novel, into an immediately intriguing and sympathetic figure. The always excellent McShane strikes the perfect notes as Wednesday – a world-weary scoundrel who charms you into believing his tall tales through sheer force of will and charm. The rest of the cast, though limited in their screen time, prove equally skillful.
Visually, the show is stunning. There are a number of dreams Shadow has over the course of the episode with some truly evocative imagery. I was particularly impressed with how they handled the sequence introducing the love goddess Bilquis. Director David Slade and the production team should be highly praised for their work and it will be a crime if American Gods does not dominate the Emmy Awards this year.
If you, like me, have had the good fortune to be exposed to the world of American Gods before, rest assured that this adaptation is a masterful one worthy of the original book. If this is your first time riding the highways of American with Mr. Wednesday, prepare yourselves for one hell of a journey.