Starz was on hand at the SXSW Conference to show off the first episode of their new series “American Gods” based on the book of the same name by Neil Gaiman. The series is set to start on April 30th of this year and follows a recently released prisoner named Shadow Moon, played by Ricky Whittle (“The 100”) as he interacts with a number of old and new god-like beings who inhabit human form in his service of the mysterious Mr. Wednesday, played by Ian McShane (“Deadwood”). The show is executive produced by Bryan Fuller (“Pushing Daisies,” “Hannibal”) and it shows, blossoming with Fulleresque flourishes throughout that create an eerie and visually stunning atmosphere for an intriguing, well-acted, and, so far, well-paced television series.
The screening included a previously recorded introduction by Neil Gaiman, who gave his blessing to the show and talked a little bit about how the gods-as-immigrants idea that seemed sort of novel when he wrote the book nearly 20 years ago has taken on a new importance in an era where immigrants continue to be marginalized. Additionally, the post-screening Q&A brought out a diverse array of actors, some of whom are in the series but didn’t appear in the first episode, who also discussed this idea of these modern day folk gods having been brought to this country in the minds and hearts of those across the seas. It is an intriguing idea for a series and while that element was not yet explored in the episode that was shown, it portends to be an important sub-theme of the series as it moves forward.
In this first episode of the series, we encounter Shadow Moon as he is a few days away from being released from prison. He learns that his wife, played by Emily Browning (Sucker Punch) has died in a car accident and his release is pushed forward a few days to accommodate, actually providing a hindrance to his previously-made travel plans, as one does not simply change airline tickets. These inconveniences put him on a path to intersect with Mr. Wednesday, who attempts to persuade the wary Shadow into his employ as a bodyguard of sorts. Shadow tries to no avail to decline Mr. Wednesday’s offer as he continues to experience bad luck on his way to honor his wife’s memory. Eventually Shadow is contracted into the employment of Mr. Wednesday, gets to his wife’s funeral, and meets a few of the other characters who will play larger roles in the show. Additionally, in a bit of world building, on the other side of the country in Los Angeles, a goddess named Bilquis, played with a sinister glee by Yetide Badaki, seduces a hapless middle-aged man into worshipping her, feeding her desire for power.
At a runtime of about one hour, this first episode does a good job of setting up a very intriguing world with some interesting characters and potential conflicts, while leaving a lot of unanswered questions for the rest of the series to address. If one has seen “Hannibal,” one is familiar with the kinds of visuals that Bryan Fuller tends to employ in order to add beauty to the dark or unknown elements of his work and this series seems to be no exception. The episode was directed by David Slade (Hard Candy), who directed a number of episodes of “Hannibal” as well and is very likely right in tune with Fuller’s vision of the world of this story. As the series continues, it will be intriguing to see the kinds of filmic oddities to which the audience’s eyes will be treated.
The first episode of “American Gods” a good start to what looks to be a good show. Stellar acting and interesting visuals make it something that I am very much looking forward to when it comes out this Spring. More characters to come (including ones played by Cloris Leachman, Orlando Jones, Gillian Anderson, Peter Stormare, and Crispin Glover), more mysteries to unfold, and an amazing cast and crew are included with this treat of a show. I recommend giving it a watch on April 30th.