Starz Unleashes the Visionary ‘American Gods’ (TV REVIEW)

“The Bone Orchard”

[rating=9.00]

“He found his god waiting… along with his war.”

When director Zack Snyder adapted Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons’ 1984 limited comic series Watchmen for the big screen in 2009, the three million people who were originally killed in New York by a giant teleported squid was revamped to 15 million killed worldwide by a Dr. Manhattan frame-up. Such was (and is) the methodology of Snyder, a filmmaker whose trademark is to amp up the violence and gore at every available opportunity.

It’s an inevitable comparison to co-showrunner Bryan Fuller (Hannibal) and his approach to Neil Gaiman’s 2001 novel American Gods, a dense, thoughtful meditation on everything from humanity’s need for idolatry to the lore of the American road trip. While Fuller a class apart from Snyder, he has his own hangups regarding the fetishization of gore and violence, and he applies it liberally to the first episode adapting Gaiman’s novel, previously thought of as impossible to adapt (much like Watchmen).

While the novel slowly built its imagery of humanity’s forgotten gods, doling out flashes here and there in dream sequences and nightmarish visions, Fuller wastes no time thrusting his audience — and main character Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) — into this dark, dangerous, and unapologetically over-the-top world.

As with any adaptation, changes are both inevitable and necessary, though it does make it impossible to imagine how anyone unfamiliar with the source material will take to it — regardless to the changes in the narrative framework.

That being said, American Gods does succeed on its own merit as an incomparable sensory overload, staying faithful to Gaiman’s source material while proving fearless in its aspirations to become something altogether unique. With Whittle giving a solid performance as Shadow Moon, the audience surrogate into an indescribable world, Ian McShane absolutely shines as the enigmatic Mr. Wednesday, who provides just enough exposition to keep newcomers from getting lost along the way.

It’ll be interesting to see how American Gods proceeds in the coming weeks, and whether or not it succeeds in earning its seat among the pantheon of TV’s new golden age, the kind that online audiences pour over with exhausting detail. Based on how it’s handled itself in the first episode, it’s certainly well on its way.

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