While Neil Gaiman’s novel “American Gods” has a strong fan base, a lot of people, myself included, are new to the world he has created and didn’t quite know what to expect from Starz’ new show, and we’ve been pleasant try surprised. We can’t comment on book-to-show accuracy or changes, but we can say without a doubt that the show definitely brings enough to the table to be a smash in its own right.
We like to think of it as Starz’ “Game of Thrones”, and while there are plent of good arguments for this and fans across the Internet are deconstructing and comparing them, we will give you the short disclaimer: both are original series airing on premium networks. This means they are full to the brim with adult content–racy dialogue, buckets of blood and on-screen violence, and more nudity and graphic, sexual content than you’d get in anything besides straight up pormography. While we don’t mind adult content, and encourage if it is appropriate for the scene, we caution you from watching it with family members–watch the first episode alone, and you’ll see what we mean, or just read our recap below to see if the show is for you!
TGON comments: At the end of the episode, we get extra footage of the producers talking about the episode and the “making of” details and their choices. And one of our favorite choices they made can be seen in the very first scene of the series! Each week will start with a sort of “coming to America” flashback of the gods.
Our first “historical” flashback is to an early viking landing on the shores of America, and it somehow still perfectly embodied the tone of the show: serious dialogue, high action, and just the right amount of self-aware Whedon-esque camp, like this over dramatic assault on the Vikings from an unseen force that the lead viking identifies as a gods doing (we find out absolutely nothing of this Native American protector god, so we expect that to come up in another flashback):
They did an amazing job on the costuming and props and somehow captured that gritty feeling, while still providing super HD and striking imagery. Also, it was chilling to see how they pledged devotion ro their god and developing the world structure thay “belief creates truth” an is what fuels the gods power, especially withbthe scenes the closing line that one hundred years later when a new set of Vikings returned their god was there, waiting.
The actual plot of American Gods follows our main character, Shadow Moon, a seemingly ordinary, albeit super beefy and cool headed and polite inmate, as he returns to life outside of prison, except the life he knew is torn to pieces on the day of his release as his wife and best friend die im a car accident. The show is very self aware of the campyness of the name “Shadow Moon,” and even has the mysterious man, Mr. Wednesday, directly joke about it upon his first meeting with Shadow during his flight home for the funeral.
Mr. Wednesday seems to take a quick liking to Shadow and offers him a job as his bodyguard/lacky, which Shadow initially refuses, not knowing the full extent of how he has no life to return to. It’s implied as early as this point that Mr. Wednesday know Shadow is ordinary man, and as an audience we see that Shadow is having very vivid dreams of a supernatural and slightly sinister Bone Orchard (we said the secret phrase)
Which apparently houses an odd, flaming horned, talking, mythical ox beast.
The following scenes focus on establishing how Shadow is a changed man, and is able to keep calm and recall good advice when confronted with hardship and frustration, and nothing says frustration like airport issues. So Shadow rents ad car t make it the rest of the way and we get to sit through a built in car commercial, that’s Adnan obvious product placement, and we’d almost be mad to have commercials forced on us during an episode we pay premiums for, except the cgi and cinemotrapht of the series have been so good we can accept the need for a bigger budget.
And after all that frustration and time to think of his awful situation while driving, it only makes sense that he’d go to one of the few places open late when he arrives looking for food and maybe a drink withbhis limited funds, so he stops at a bar. The very friendly bar tender (Beth Grant aka Beverly from the Mindy Project) is the first person to finally cut him a break, but any relaxation is soon interrupted with a not-so-by-chance encounter with Mr. Wednesday, who again offers him a job and piques Shadow’s interest in it by knowing more than he should for a stranger met on a plane, and informing Shadow that the job he thought he’d have withbhis best friend doesn’t exist because his best friend also died, so Shadow has no ties and should take the offer to be his body guard. And he does take the offer, after unexpectedly losing a coin toss Shadow was sure hed win with is coin trickerywhich is then cerenonialized with shots of mead (tradition, of course) and meeting and beating one of Mr. Wednesday’s associates: a very tall, very buff, very familiar leprechaun.
Mad Sweeney, played by Pablo Schreiber (AKA “Pornstache” Mendez on Orange is the New Black), instigates Shadow into a fight (Pablo is just good at playing a douche), presumably to test Shadow, but everyone’s motives are very unclear at this point, but it serve to help tear down the walls Shadow has had with his need to stay calm and collected and helped him release more than a little pent up frustration and grief. Both hulking men also happen to have actual penchant for coin tricks and slight of hand, and is is assumed Mad Sweeney, as part of their deal, teaches Shadow a magic coin trick using one of the leperchaun’s real gold coins that Shadow wakes up with the next day.
Shadow finally makes it to the funeral and has a mixed reunion with his best friend’s wife, Audrey, who spares little time in letting the carlt out of the bag after realizing he doesn’t know the scandalous secret behind their beloveds’ deaths–their significant others died in the car accident together and while Shadow’s best friend was driving them downtown, Shadow’s wife was going downtown on his best friend.
Then we get another of the many musical interludes that highlight the emotions of the show, as a somber Shadow watches his wife’s casket get lowered the mechanism malfunctions and drops her with and thud–campy poetic justice. Shadow doesn’t leave the grave until late that night, after Audrey finds him still there and offers revenge sex and Shadow seals his characterization as a morally good character by denying her and offering kind words. It was an impressive scene to behold, and would have made a great end to the episode when he tosses the gold coin on her grave and as he walks away it flows and sinks into her grave (SPOILER: we see in promos that she comes back “to life”, so this storyline isn’t over and there’s your clue).
Lucky for us however there is even more jammed in this very meaty premiere! On his walk back to his hotel, Shadow gets to meet one of the new gods by trigger a trap (a mysterious glowing box that latches onto his face). The new god is much younger, and Shadow has no idea who or what he is, but he seems like some sort of tech, new age god that looks like age cross between a computer hipster that would call himself a “hacker” and who’s parents happened to be Oompa Loompas.
The young god questions Shadow about Mrm Wednesday’s motives and plans while vaping a mind altering smoke into Shadow’s face (all in his head though, so it seems like a synbolic gesture of the tech god frying Shadow’s brain), and when Shadow doesn’t know anything the bratty gof throws a tantrum and has his seemly endless supply of faceless goons (it all feels very “The Matrix”, which was probably what they were going for)
But the main character can’t die in the first episode and a mysterious figure saves Shadow by removing the device and slaughtering the IRL faceless goons in nap bloody massacre. The episode ends with Shadow waking in the back of Mr. Wednesday’s car a little worse for the wear but still being heald to his end of their pact.
We saved the best scene for last because 1) it’s the best scene 2) it had nothing to do with Shadow’s story. Bilquis, an old goddes of love, amazingly portrayed by Yetide Badaki, in what will become a legendary the, is used as a plot device for what feels like the purpose of demonstrating the gods needs for believers and followers. Unlike the picture above, we first see her haggard and slightly grungy, until she meets her client from a hookup app, and quickly leads him to bed. A very graphic we’d scene follows that quickly goes from sex to him being almost possessed and worshipping her, until it ends with her absorbing him into her vagina and then looking in the mirror having regained her youth and beauty, which is ironic considering the man was neither young nor beautiful. The scene should be heralded as wonderfully acted, but we fear it’ll just turn the squeamish away from the show and only be remembered for the sheer weirdness, but regardless it has people buzzing and we’re all excited for episode 2!