American Gods Season 1 Review (Spoilers)

  • Series: American Gods
  • Season: 1
  • Episodes: 8
  • Discs: 3 (Blu-Ray)
  • Cast: Ricky Whittle , Ian McShane, Gillian Anderson, Emily Browning, Crispin Glover, Bruce Langley, Pablo Schreiber
  • Network:  Starz (Lionsgate, Freemantle Media)
  • DVD Format: Blu-Ray, Color, Widescreen

Here Be Spoilers – for the first season of American Gods.

The television series American Gods is based on the novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman, which I have read, twice. Since I read the book, I was familiar with the necessary background information for this series – and I still found it to be a very, very, very weird show, one that I wasn’t exactly sure if I liked or not.

American Gods, the show, uses a lot of extreme close-ups in its cinematography – these extreme close-ups emphasize the symbolic nature of the show. And since the show decided to have Shadow Moon as the POV character, and Shadow has no idea what is going on, the audience has no idea what is going on for much of the series.

The basics are these: Shadow Moon is in jail for “aggravated assault”, although it isn’t until episode six, which tells the tale of his wife, Laura, that we learn he attempted to rob a casino – we can surmise the “assault” was hitting a guard when he was caught. Shadow is due to be released within a few days and is released soon. He’s released a few days early – because his wife Laura died in a car accident. He sees Wednesday pull a con at the airport to get a free upgrade to first class, and when he is also bumped to first they meet and talk – and Wednesday offers him a job. Shadow declines, not wanting to be involved in anything shady so soon after his release from prison.

However, at his wife’s funeral, he learns the exact circumstances of his wife’s death, that she was having an affair with his best friend, and his friend also died in the crash. Shadow, left with nothing, takes up Wednesday on his job offer.

From there – the series diverts from the book. The book is a road novel, taking place largely in the Midwest, with Cairo, Illinois being of special significance. Although Wednesday’s big, black Cadillac is frequently seen, the television show doesn’t show much traveling. Instead, most episodes start with an opening story of how one of the Old Gods got to America – like any other immigrant. The series tells the story of the nation of immigrants through their gods. What the series doesn’t tell you that the novel does from the start is that the Old Gods from the Old World are at war with the New Gods. The series introduces us to a few new gods – Technical Boy, Media, and Mr. World – but they insist there is no war.

Wednesday, however, is trying to build an army of the Old Gods for the fight. And he’s not doing that well. It isn’t until the last episode of the season when Wednesday and Shadow arrive in Kentucky to speak with the goddess of Spring, Easter, that we learn who, exactly, Wednesday is – something that readers of the book remember, and is hinted at strongly in the first “story within a story” telling of the Vikings who landed in America, bringing their god, and then leaving. Yep, he’s Odin – and not a friendly All-Father Odin either.

What’s more surprising in the final episode is the story of Laura Moon (who rejects death) and the Leprechaun, Mad Sweeney. Sweeney had caused the death of Laura and Robbie (which makes it ironic that his lucky coin was the instrument of bringing her back) but he did so at the command of Wednesday – who needed Shadow. As Laura discovers, everything that happened to her and Shadow was manipulated by Wednesday.

American Gods is just plain weird – it drops you into a world with no guidance points whatsoever. Ricky Whittle is excellent as Shadow, and he and Ian McShane make for an awesome double act. In fact, if it wasn’t for Ian McShane’s light touch (half Paul Newman from The Sting and half Columbo) the show would be hard to take, it really would. But, on the other hand, each episode is set in a time and a place specific to the episode – so the show doesn’t have that “road movie” feel it really should. The series is also definitely R rated, though there is no rating on the Blu-Ray box (NTSC version). There’s considerably more sex and violence in the show than the book. Not that it wasn’t there in the book, but it was more subtle. This series seems to be cashing in on the Game of Thrones trend (something possible for a pay-extra cable station like Starz). I also didn’t like having to watch roughly 15 minutes of previews every time I popped in Disc 1 – with no ability to skip to the menu. I will watch previews once without prompting, but I hate autoplay previews especially when forced to watch them over and over (and with violent content for shows such as “Hannibal” too! Yuch!).

Anyway, ambivalent feelings about this one. I don’t think they quite caught the book. Ricky Whittle and Ian McShane are excellent though. I’m not even sure I’d get the second season whenever it may arrive. No recommendation.

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Book Review – The Ocean at the End of the Lane

  • Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
  • Author: Neil Gaiman
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 05/18/2014

Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane is simply a beautiful story. Hauntingly, achingly beautiful. It’s a fairy tale for adults, and I’m not just saying that because it was the catch phase for Gaiman’s Stardust – this book does what a good fairy story or fantasy, or any really good book does – it pulls you in, and immerses you in a world that isn’t quite our world but is close. Every time I opened this book I was immediately pulled in, no matter what else was going on at the time – family members watching TV, noise from the street, a few rainstorms – everything faded away when I read this book. It was totally magical.

The story is a simple one – a man returns home for his father’s funeral. But returning home awakens memories, memories of a not quite happy, and as it turns out, rather unusual, childhood. But to say more would spoil the joy of this incredible novella – and it really is something to experience for oneself.

About halfway through this book it did remind me of the classic children’s book, Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. But that is not a criticism – it’s a complement. Terebithia is one of those classics that every child really must read. Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane not only needs to be read by children, but especially needs to be read by adults. It’s just a marvelous experience of a book.

Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane is very atmospheric. It’s driven more by atmosphere than either plot or character. Also, although the story is set in rural Sussex England, somehow, while reading the book, that detail tended to slip my mind – to me the story could have been set in a small Midwestern town – in Iowa, or Michigan, or Minnesota, or Ohio, or Indiana – it just felt very universal, as a good fairy tale should.

This is just a beautiful book. I don’t give five star ratings often – this is just about as close to perfect as it gets. Highly recommended.