TV Review: American Gods, Episode 1: "The Bone Orchard"

"You'll get no peace from the dead"

Neil Gaiman is a goddamned rockstar of a writer. His works, from The Sandman to Ocean at the End of the Lane to Neverwhere to Stardust, are all brilliant, intelligent works of fiction and fantasy that reflect mores of culture, interlaced with complex metaphors, allusions to other works, and insane foreshadowing. His writing sits at the apex of what modern fiction is. And as such, adaptations of his writings and comics are hit or miss (Stardust, though a fun fantasy romp of a movie, completely misses the mark in terms of a proper adaptation), especially with the ferocious intelligence of his fanbase.

And, as a fan, I can absolutely say without a doubt that American Gods on Starz is one of the best screen adaptations of his work.

Through the casting and the cinematography, Gaiman's words and stories are faithfully and  impressively given life.

Before I get into how absolutely gorgeous this show is from a visual standpoint, we have to talk about the perfection of the cast. Ricky Whittle (The 100, Hollyoaks) as Shadow Moon is incredible. His very presence exudes a facade of "I'm okay," hiding an underbelly of loss. His "dumb tough guy" veneer melts when given an opportunity to let loose, whether it's via anguish or cunning. He plays Shadow just the way he's portrayed in the book.

And then there's the delightful Ian McShane (Deadwood, John Wick) as Mr. Wednesday. Nearly every time we see him, we learn something new about his character... and I'm not talking about story. Watch McShane's eyes as he goes from frivolous banter to a serious intensity, back to making a joke. A sly, coy smirk, and a quick tongue. McShane was born to play Mr. Wednesday, and he steals every scene he's in. 

The rest of the cast is similarly stellar. From the swagger of Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber), the sensual viciousness of Bilquis (Yetide Badaki), the smoke-and-mirrors nonsense of Technical Boy (Bruce Langly), to the odd, intense quirkiness of Low Key (Jonathan Tucker). Each and every actor in the show was cast to absolute perfection.

And this is to say nothing of the visuals. Each scene is jam-packed with gorgeous colors. Blues, greens, and reds permeate each delicious shot. An infamous scene from the book featuring a bed awash in deep, lustful reds. Greens and yellows in the bar. Black and grey in a church. With slight and occasionally jarring CGI accompaniment, psychedelic trips into Shadow's mind where reality shifts upon itself, and supernatural elements take center-stage are incredibly cool. American Gods is the most visually striking show this side of Legion

Without being too spoilery, the one sex scene in the premiere is about the only misstep. It struggles to be both sensual and ridiculous, but ends up becoming a lot more of the latter. Keep in mind, it's subdued compared to the same scene from the book.

And there's blood. Ohhh boy, there's so much blood. Gushing from bodies like fountains of gore, falling from the heavens like a Slayer song. And it's absolutely delightful. 

If you've never read the novel (what the hell is wrong with you? DO IT NOW), you may be forgiven for feeling a little lost: The story is interspersed with tidbits of "Coming to America" folklore, highlighting various gods as they make their way from across the globe to North America. The show appears to follow along with this same style. And while this storytelling method may feel disjointed at first, the bigger picture will most likely become more clear in future episodes (unhelpfully, the previews for next week's episode is teasing a LOT of spoilery stuff).

According to Gaiman, this first season will only cover approximately one-third of the book, with a few choice scenes from its "sequel" Anansi Boys (which is also amazing), so we have a LOT of really, really exciting stuff ahead. And if this premiere is at all indicative of the show's direction, we're looking at an absolutely killer series. I AM ALL OF THE HYPE, OKAY?

Hollywood, take note. This is how you adapt complex source material.

9.5/10 inexplicable gold leprechaun coins