TV dramas don’t come much more polarising than American Gods, a wildly hallucinatory saga galloping straight down the road of David Lynch, A Clockwork Orange, Carnivale and their bold counterparts.
You’re either going to love this or want to head for the exit door, pronto. Planting a stake firmly in the fantasy ground, it leaves little room for those in between.
Based on Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name this arrives on Amazon (via Starz in the US) after three attempts to bring to the screen -and it isn’t hard to see why.
More concept than content, more style than story, it fuses the real and unreal in modern America through the eyes of convict Shadow Moon.
But it begins with a bizarre and bloody prologue of Norsemen coming to North America. Unravelling like an old fable, their landing meets with the arrows of the natives in a violent, blackly-comedic demise that sets the tone of this wild ride.
Our protagonist, however, is the contemporary convict Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) a burly, man-mountain who learns his wife has been killed in a car accident, just days before his freedom.
Now, directionless and dejected, his path crosses with Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) a malevolent, menacing con man determined to employ Shadow as his bodyguard. Despite all attempts at reason, Shadow eventually joins forces with Mr. Wednesday who agrees to transport him to his wife’s funeral.
The two drive across the US in a road movie plot that is bursting with bizarre encounters, magic realism and flights of fancy (hold on for one extreme sex scene).
While Shadow Moon struggles to make sense of his new acquaintance, it is clear that Mr. Wednesday is in control of forces other than earthly materials….
Bryan Fuller’s previous works, including Pushing Daisies and Hannibal, are indicative of the clash of fantasy and dark forces throughout this work, which he has adapted with Michael Green (Gotham, Heroes, Logan, Alien: Covenant). Director David Slade dials up the funk to 10 on the richter scale. There are trippy visuals, faceless men, overt characters, CGI magic…..
In the lead role of Shadow actor Ricky Whittle (The 100, Holby City) is brooding yet charismatic, remaining unfazed by the spectres and surreal tug of war surrounding him, but deeply affected by more personal conflicts. Ian McShane (Deadwood, Ray Donovan) revels in another role bordering on maniacal, creating TV’s newest odd couple.
Impressive names including Gillian Anderson, Cloris Leachman, Kristin Chenoweth will follow.
But if the intent of the first episode is to frustrate and confuse its audience then it succeeds. The narrative is defiantly upstaged by the high-concepts here, and I prefer more clarity to connect with at an early juncture. Mental note to self, try it again when coming down from a weekend bender.
That said, you may just be provoked enough to come back to try and make sense of it all…
American Gods premieres Monday on Amazon Prime Video.