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AMERICAN GODS was a badly-written novel but the TV series shows promise…

Posted on May 1st, 2017
Posted on May 1st, 2017

by Coop Cooper

The new TV series “American Gods” premiered on the premium Starz channel this past Sunday at 8pm Central. Adapted from the very popular novel by Neil Gaiman, “Gods” has been along time in development. Mixing fantasy/folklore with the modern world, “Gods” has a potential to become yet another hit cable series as long as the adaptation jettisons Gaiman’s questionable style.

A few days shy of being released from prison, Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) learns his wife Laura (Emily Browning) has died in a car accident. While traveling across the country to her funeral, Shadow meets the enigmatic con man calling himself Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) who offers Shadow a job as his bodyguard. Shadow refuses but the persistent Mr. Wednesday keeps showing up along the journey to make Shadow the same offer. Low on money, Shadow finally relents to take the job on the condition he is allowed to attend his wife’s funeral to say goodbye. Along the way, they run across beings who look like humans but have supernatural powers. Shadow soon finds himself in the middle of a war between the ‘old gods’ of ancient legends and the ‘new gods’ of modern culture and technology. Meanwhile, he is haunted by the spirit of his dead wife.

Although I was fascinated by the concept behind Neil Gaiman’s novel “American Gods”, I developed a strong dislike for Gaiman’s writing style, pacing and dialogue. The English writer never could seem to get the knack for writing American characters. They would frequently lapse into flowery language and overuse British pleasantries and idioms that no American would ever speak aloud outside of a ill-conceived jest. He would insert side parables that were questionably relevant to the overarching story and the novel’s whimsical tone was at odds with its adult themes. Worst of all, the cool concept never fully gelled into anything interesting. That’s disappointing when you have Norse gods, Egyptian gods, leprechauns and fairies vying for power against the ‘God of Technology’, the ‘Goddess of Media’ and so forth. Seems like something that could write itself into a pretty cool epic.

While I may never pick up one of Gaiman’s books ever again, I held out hope that the long-gestating TV series adaptation of “American Gods” might clean up most of the flaws of the novel. Luckily, the series is off to a good start. The first sign that things were on the right track was the casting. Ricky Whittle has a strong screen presence and his portrayal as the tragic warrior ‘Lincoln’ on the CW sci-fi series “The 100” proved he was capable of carrying the dramatic weight to play a leading man. “Deadwood” alum Ian McShane is always welcome to headline any project and he is a perfect fit for Mr. Wednesday. “Gods” also co-stars reliable genre actors such as Peter Stormare (“Fargo”), Gillian Anderson (“The X-Files”), Cloris Leachman (“The Mary Tyler Moore Show”), Pablo Schreiber (“Orange is the New Black”), Kristin Chenoweth (Broadway’s “Wicked”) and Orlando Jones (“MADtv”). It also managed somehow to bring Crispin Glover (George McFly from “Back to the Future”) out of retirement.

I have no doubt the acting will be strong in this series, but the pilot episode seems to rely on a large dose of gore, vulgarities and one bizarre and off-putting sex scene (which I do seem to remember from the book). It could be in danger of covering the problems in Gaiman’s novel with shock value and an over-reliance on dream sequences and psychedelic imagery.

But the story has so much promise and it could end up winning me over. If it manages to accomplish that, I hope it finds a large audience. I’ll look forward to seeing how the next few episodes turn out but if it follows the book too closely, I may lose interest.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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