American Gods as Fascinating, Inscrutable as the Deities Themselves

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American Gods teaser poster

Once upon a time (goodness, was it really 15 years ago?) I had the opportunity to interview Neil Gaiman, who was just coming off of publishing AMERICAN GODS. Assuming it to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (and so far time has supported me on this), I kept him forever and asked him everything about everything.

And now, lo these many years later, AMERICAN GODS has made its way from the page to the screen, from the literal to the visual. And visually, it's divine.

The long and the short of AMERICAN GODS is this: When people immigrated to America, they brought their beliefs, and thus their gods, with them. The gods have had to adapt over time, and make room for new gods that we've created (unwittingly or not). And now one of the old gods wants to reestablish his place in the cosmos by going to war with the new gods.

The lead of the story is Shadow Moon (RICKY WHITTLE, THE 100), who has just been released from prison for a robbery that went south on him. On his last day in prison, he learns his wife Laura (EMILY BROWNING, SUCKER PUNCH) has been killed in an automobile accident. Having nothing left for him outside of prison, he's easily recruited by the inscrutible Mr. Wednesday (IAN MCSHANE, JOHN WICK) to be his right-hand man in a plan that he is always hedging about -- but it's big.

The series -- like the book -- is a road trip through America, as Mr. Wednesday goes to where the various old gods have taken up residence in his effort to conscript them into his war. And what a pantheonic assemblage they are, both in mythology and in Hollywood (which, let's be honest, is a mythology all its own). There's the Russian god of darkness, Czernobog, played by PETER STORMARE, and Zorya Vechernyaya (CLORIS LEACHMAN). There is the smooth talking Mr. Nancy (ORLANDO JONES, SLEEPY HOLLOW), and the seductive temptress Bilquis (YETIDE BADAKI). There is Vulcan (CORBIN BERNSEN) who has found a new life as the god of gunfire, and Ostara, who has reinvented herself as Easter (KRISTEN CHENOWETH). And there is Jesus -- in every version except the King James.

Those are the old gods. The new gods are just as startling in their demeanor and presence, such as the Technical Boy (BRUCE LANGLEY), Media (GILLIAN ANDERSON, THE X FILES) and Mr. World (CRISPIN GLOVER, BACK TO THE FUTURE).

Each episode relates more of Shadow Moon's journey -- or that of his wife, Laura, who turns out not to be quite as dead as we thought she was when we buried her, and who is traveling with a six-foot leprechaun named Mad Sweeney (PABLO SCHREIBER, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK) who lost a special coin he desperately needs back. Some of the episodes tell stories of the gods and how they came to be in America. But mostly the episodes are a phantasmagoric ride of visual stimulation that befuddles as much as it addicts. You don't know what you just saw, but you have to see more of it.

It's decidedly adult. As if the religious themes weren't uncomfortably blasphemous enough, there's quite a bit of nudity and sexuality going on. And not just the usual "two people meet, get naked, and bump uglies" kind of thing, either. Trust me, the first time you meet Bilquis, you'll get just a touch of what it is you're letting yourself in for.

You can watch the entire first season on STARZ (and also Amazon).

Grade: 
4.0 / 5.0