May 1, 2017

ShowbuzzDaily Series Premiere Review: “American Gods”


AMERICAN GODS:  Sunday 9PM on Starz – Potential DVR Alert

It seems only fair to note upfront, upon the arrival of Bryan Fuller’s new Starz series AMERICAN GODS (created with Michael Green, and based on the novel by Neil Gaiman) that I was not among the congregation that worshiped Fuller’s Hannibal.  I admired the hell out of its unwavering commitment to its aesthetics, and its utterly unique visual and auditory style, but for me Fuller and his partners too completely disposed of Thomas Harris’s storytelling vitality in favor of something that was often a gorgeous but pretentious bore.  All this is relevant because American Gods, on the basis of its opening hour, is very much the work of Hannibal‘s creator, so those more in tune with that show’s singularities may be faster to rush into Gods‘s embrace.

At first glance, and despite its supernatural storyline and its own extreme stylization, American Gods feels somewhat more grounded than Hannibal in a recognizable version of reality.  It’s also more personable, thanks largely to the presence of Ian McShane, whose sly mix of humor and menace is always welcome.  McShane plays a character who calls himself Mr. Wednesday, and although he appears to be a genial con man, he’s clearly more than that.  Wednesday insinuates himself into the life of the story’s hero, Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle, late of The 100), shortly after Shadow has been freed from his prison term to attend the funeral of his wife Laura (Emily Browning).  By the end of the episode, Shadow has gone to work for Wednesday, his duties not exactly clear, and even less clear is what’s going on with the magical VR headset that implants itself on Shadow’s head so that a younger gangster can threaten him with images of literally faceless goons who can inflict very real harm before they’re washed away in a flood of blood.

Despite the hallucinations or visions that dot the narrative, the opening hour, written by Fuller and Green, is more linear than the first episode of Legion, or for that matter Preacher, if also less immediately engaging than both.  As directed by David Slade (another Hannibal veteran), it looks spectacular.  Freed of broadcast television’s standards rules, and with what was probably a significantly higher budget, Fuller and his team start things off with a flashback to Vikings times awash with blood, include a sex scene where the woman (one of the gods) literally ingests her partner between her legs, and has hardly a shot that doesn’t look suitable for framing.

What’s unclear is whether all of this will add up to much.  The stolid Shadow is a step–at least–behind everyone else on screen, which makes him the least interesting character, not just compared to Wednesday, but to Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber), a violent self-described leprechaun, and even Audrey (Betty Gilpin), the human widow of Shadow’s best friend, who as it turned out died with Laura in compromising circumstances.  There’s also no real sign so far of a central storyline, even though the season only consists of 8 episodes.  We already know Fuller can deliver spectacular visuals that nod to artworks both classic and modern (not for the first time, he tips his cap to Stanley Kubrick in the premiere with a sequence straight out of A Clockwork Orange), but not whether he can spin a tale that resists being overwhelmed by the artistry that surrounds it.  For now, we can say that American Gods is certainly worth the investment of time to find out.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."