Who doesn’t know the mixture of feelings you experience when you learn your favorite book (or series) is headed to a screen near you? Whether it’s the joy of finally seeing something you love visualized for you, or the terror experienced when Hollywood destroys your favorite things, a big screen blockbuster, or a small screen hit series, adaptations always come with a mix of good and bad. This is the situation I currently find myself in regarding Starz’s adaptation of “American Gods.” There’s good, there’s bad, and after watching all but two episodes, my feelings are a mix of both.
American Gods, written by Neil Gaiman, is the story about how our ancient Gods (Odin, Anansi, Anubis, etc) who traveled across the ocean with our ancestors, clash with our new Gods (Media, Technology, etc). An ex-con named Shadow gets drawn into the world of these Gods after the death of his wife, Laura. As a book, I absolutely love what Gaiman chooses to say and not say. His use of both past history and current progress of the American People lead to a thought-provoking look at our current lives.
Overall, the look and feel of the Starz’s series is spot on. Right from the beginning, the opening credits set the tone with a totem pole of eclectic gods—old and new. A very distinct visual point of view is conveyed. It’s very stylized, making me feel a bit off balance in a good way. From the buffalo head with flaming eyes to the hanging tree to the aura Laura sees around Shadow; show runners make the right calls to stay true to the vision of the book.
Also the casting helps add to the feel of the series. Ricky Whittle portrays the main character Shadow Moon with a nice blend of disbelief, incredulity, and laid-back philosophy of life. Who wouldn’t just roll with the punches to preserve their sanity when getting a crash-course in the unbelievable world of the gods? Shadow works for a tricky god who hustles for a living named Mr. Wednesday, played brilliantly by Ian McShane. But perhaps the most well-matched piece of casting is Gillian Anderson as Media. Media is a changeable character, one appearance looking like Lucy Ricardo, the next David Bowie, and even a time as Marilyn Monroe. Gillian Anderson works hard to make each character true to life while maintaining Media’s own twisted personality. It’s masterful to watch.
There is only one thing that needles me about this adaptation; some of the show’s attempt to fill-in the blanks. I understand that “American Gods” is just one book unlike some other popular series. This means adding to the story and expanding existing characters and scenes. While I understand the need, some of these additions feel like simple filler for filler sake. It makes me worry about the future of the series. Too much filler will drive the viewers away.
As a whole I am enjoying, Bryan Fuller’s vision for “American Gods.” I do recommend watching the series, just be prepared. In a roundabout way, there are some very strong commentaries regarding current American culture built in to the show’s storyline. Also be ready to roll with the story, because it is not a word for word portrayal of the book. But follow my lead as I watch, with a good friend drinking a toast in honor of our American Gods.