I can’t think of any television series that has gone downhill faster than American Gods. The first season was rightly hailed as an artistic triumph, earning several award nominations and critical acclaims. Unfortunately, Freemantle Entertainment elected to slash the show’s budget and fire showrunners Michael Green and Bryan Fuller, starting a chain-reaction that saw several actors quit the show in sympathy. The trend continued in Season 2, with the show’s new showrunner being fired before he could finish editing Season 2 and actor/producer Orlando Jones (who played the roll of Anansi) being dismissed from the show.
Given that, I hadn’t intended to watch American Gods Season 3. Indeed, I wasn’t sure how the show could continue, given how much of its chief supporting cast had quit and/or been given the boot for one reason or another. Many of the book’s best moments had already been shuffled forward in the story and showcased in Season 1 and Season 2 had to pad out its episode order with whole episodes tangenting off from the main plotline involving ex-con Shadow Moon’s introduction into the world of the divine. I did wind up watching the first half of the new season, however, seeking a cure for my insomnia. I did not find it. Instead, I found a new guilty pleasure.
Season 3 of American Gods opens several months after the end of Season 2, with Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) getting ready to pick up tracks after his promotion at a local factory leads to a background check he can’t afford as he’s working under the name Mike Ansiel. A not-so-chance encounter with his former employer, father and fellow fugitive Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) leads Shadow to reluctantly seek shelter in a hideaway his father arranged in the small town of Lakeside, Wisconsin. This coincides with perhaps the slowest section of the American Gods novel, as Shadow tries to blend in to a small town and not be noticed until Wednesday sends for him again. While the asides in the text are rather amusing, not much happens in terms of the plot and stories where the hero hides and doesn’t get noticed by the people hunting him make for poor television.
Thankfully, the show is quick to get Shadow back on the road to attend a funeral, before sending him off on a quest to find the African love goddess Bilquis (Yetide Badaki). This leads to an unlikely alliance with the new god Technical Boy (Bruce Langley), who has his own reasons for seeking out Bilquis even ignoring the larger plans of the new gods and their leader, Mr. World (Crispin Glover). Incidentally, Mr. World is now occasionally making appearances as Ms. World (Dominique Jackson).
None of this is in the book. Nor is the new subplot centered around Shadow’s dead wife, Laura Moon (Emily Browning) whose botched attempt to resurrect the leprechaun Mad Sweeny ends her undeath and sends her soul to Purgatory, which looks something like a crowded bus terminal that few can escape from. There’s also a few new storylines for Mister Wednesday, who is distracted from a side gig drawing worship from the mosh pits at a Viking-themed death metal band’s concerts, by a mission of mercy to rescue his ex-wife Demeter (yes, the Greek goddess of the harvest) from a nursing home.
While the story doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, I must confess that American Gods is more entertaining than it has been in some time and abandoning the book’s storyline may be the first smart thing the management has done in several years. The sad truth is that American Gods was Neil Gaiman’s weakest novel and Gaiman was wise to allow the show’s writers to try and build upon his original concept.
Oh, it’s still a great book – don’t misunderstand me. But the fact of the matter is that Shadow Moon is a character to whom things happen, who spends most of the novel clueless as to what is going on. All the action takes place off-page and the gods manipulating Shadow are far more interesting and active than he is. While the show has taken steps to correct this, it has also seemingly recognized that Shadow’s story is nowhere near as interesting as Laura or Wednesday and taken steps to give them more to do. For this reason, I can happily say that American Gods is worth watching again, provided you aren’t a purist about the book who cannot abide additional material padding out the season.