“They can have it back when they pray for it.”
–Ostara

Neil Gaiman’s monster-novel finally receives an adaptation, and its first season was one of the most anticipated shows of the fading year. We look back with a review.

Title: American Gods

Directors: Chris Byrne, David Slade, Adam Kane, Vincenzo Natali, Floria Sigismondi, Craig Zobel

Writers: Neil Gaiman, Bryan Fuller, Michael Green, Maria Melnik, Bekah Brunstetter, Seamus Kevin Fahey, David Graziano

Based on the novel by Neil Gaiman

Cast

Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon
Ian McShane as Wednesday
Emily Browning as Laura Moon, Essie MacGowan
Pablo Schreiber as Mad Sweeney
Crispin Glover as Mr. World
Bruce Langley as Technical Boy
Yetide Badaki as Bilquis
Gillian Anderson as Media
Demore Barnes as Ibis
Chris Obi as Anubis
Omid Abtahi as Salim
Orlando Jones as Mr. Nancy
Kristin Chenoweth as Ostara
Sonja Smits as Laura’s Mother
Cloris Leachman as Zorya Vechernyaya
Peter Stormare as Czernobog
Mousa Kraish as the Jinn
Corbin Bernsen as Vulcan
Jonathan Tucker as “Low Key” Lyesmith
Dane Cook as Robbie
Betty Gilpin as Audrey
Erika Kaar as Zorya Polunochnaya
Martha Kelly as Zorya Utrennyaya
Jeremy Davies as Jesus Prime
Ernesto Reyes as Mexican Jesus
David Labiosa as Tattooed Man
Ron Lea as Cambro
Marilyn Camacho as Coyote
Matthew Gouveia as Cassius
Keller Viaene as Young Essie MacGowan
Fionnula Flanagan as Old Essie MacGowan
Jacqueline Antaramian as Mrs. Fadil
Chris Handfield as Clay
Jake Manley as Bartholomew
Jon Tench as Viking leader
Don Mike as African man
Conphidance as Okoye
Beth Grant as Jack, Owner of the Crocodile Bar

Premise:

After his release from prison and the unexpected death of his wife and best friend, Shadow Moon encounters a mysterious grifter named Wednesday who wants to employ him as a bodyguard.

He soon meets such colourful characters as a leprechaun, his recently-deceased wife, and assorted deities, as he finds himself in the middle of a battle between old and new gods.

High Points:

Several episodes that almost function as stand-alones prove the highlights. “Git Gone” gives us a riveting account of Laura Moon’s background and how she came to be wandering around America after her death. The same actress appears front and center in “A Prayer for Mad Sweeney,” which tells the tale of Essie Macgowan, and explains how the titular leprechaun got to America.

Low Point:

As in the novel, our story hangs on Shadow Moon, who may be its least interesting character. Ricky Whittle is a passable actor, but he’s rather lacking in personal charisma or even much chemistry with the others.

Some episodes get bogged down in the show’s spectacular visuals and complex plotting.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6 American Gods updates and modifies the source material, but ultimately, we’re watching an adaptation.

Effects: 5/6 The episodes rarely go long without some kind of impressive effect. Many of these serve to create the show’s bizarre world. Occasionally they confuse, rather than enhance, the story.

Acting: 6/6 American Gods features a strong cast.

Production: 6/6 The show receives the budget the book requires; even the passing America of the road trip looks mystical, magical, and foreboding. In some ways, American Gods does for the American highway what Lord of the Rings did for ancient western Europe.

Story: 5/6 The story moves slowly at times; we reach the driveway of the House on the Rock in the finale.1

Emotional Response: 5/6 Some scenes work better than others. Although the slave ship sequence has been toned down significantly from the source, it remains harrowing, with a stunning performance by Orlando Jones as Anansi.

Overall: 5/6 Despite the revisions, many of the novel’s strengths and weaknesses are the show’s as well. I recommend watching over the course of a week. The serpentine plots and multitudes of characters could get lost over several weeks, while the show’s excesses might prove too much for a binge-watch.

In total, receives 35/42

Note

I visited The House on the Rock in either 2001 or 2002. It’s an important setting, which has to be seen to be believed.