A sign of better things to come...

Please note the review below may contain minor spoilers - I've done my best to keep them to a minimum.

After nearly 20 years in the pending queue, popular author Neil Gaiman finally has his American Gods reach new shores and a different kind of audience; with the television medium entering into a new renaissance, now seems like the perfect time to tackle a beast many have failed to conquer.

Currently incarcerated, Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) is counting down the days until his release, which wonít be long now. But after a premonition and an uneasy feeling, Shadow phones his wife - Laura played by Emily Browning - just to make sure everything is okay. She assures him it is.

But Shadowís precognition turns out to be correct. Approached by the prison warden with unfortunate news of his wife's passing, they graciously allow his release date to be set forward to attend the funeral. Shadow has now attained the freedom he has yearned for, but has lost the reason to live for it.

Released, he now has to make the trek back home, that means catching the first flight out he can, which unfortunately for him wonít arrive until after his wifeís funeral. Sitting in the airport lounge waiting to be called, he notices a shabby looking man, blagging himself a first class ticket aboard the same flight.

But Shadow Moonís dour day just might be beginning to brighten a little, with his seat double booked he is moved to first class and seated next to the very man he saw earlier; a man who calls himself Mr Wednesday (Ian McShane). With his previous conman facade lifted, he introduces himself to Shadow, seemingly knowing more than he should about him and offering a job.

For a show about leprechauns, zombies, degenerate Gods and an ex-con named Shadow Moon, you may balk at the revelation that I found it extremely difficult to take anything American Gods threw at me on screen with a single shred of sincerity - even if itís trying in earnest to make it so.

In truth, for as much colourful variety and symbolism that American Gods squeezes into your eyeballs, thereís not a whole lot actually going on behind it's sometimes awe inspiring visual presentation.

That aforementioned visual wrapping though is world class, with each of the eight episodes offering some of the finest cinematography and editing tricks youíll find on television - especially the early episodes by Jo Willems who framed the eye-catching Limitless and The Hunger Games franchise. Likewise, showrunner Bryan Fuller is known for pushing out consistent quality television over the years, from Pushing Daisies to Hannibal and thereís a lot of his flair within American Gods - even some semblances of the surreal True Blood. And truly that visual and mechanical acumen is American Gods shining star.

Itís of no surprise to anyone that American Gods - much like the characters portrayed within - has attempted many a guise ever since its literary release back in 2001. From testing the waters with big screen adaptations, comics and now a television show, itís a work that's clearly hard to translate to a new medium from its original form, and the first season of American Gods exemplifies that.

American Gods - Season 1 (Ricky Whittle, Ian McShane, Emily Browning, Yetide Badaki, Gillian Anderson, Crispin Glover, Yetide Badaki, Pablo Schreiber & Bruce Langley)

Sprinkled throughout the main story are small segments - fittingly titled ĎComing To Americaí - each delving into how the particular Gods showcased within the show made their way into the new world. And honestly not only did Neil Gaiman himself admit these side stories were mere cases of writer's block taking form, but, from a viewers point of view they are superior to the main story on offer.

From Vikings being attacked by natives, mutiny aboard a slave ship or the use of beautiful pure 3D animation, each feel more fresh, creative and interesting than what is unequivocally a surreal road trip of a main tale. A road trip that whilst rousing elements of a Shane Black buddy duo creation, ultimately descends into a Syfy channel worthy climax of a final episode.

Thatís not to say the throughline of American Gods is bad - it isnít great for sure - but primarily thereís just a not a whole lot happening here. This first season is merely an introduction to the world, its characters and for hopefully something greater to happen in a presumed second season. The cast meanwhile perfectly fit their roles - and it's quite amusing that the majority are actually British - with the two main leads in particular (Ian McShane and Ricky Whittle) fostering a dynamic you wish to see much more of down the road.

American Gods also aims to be a not-so-subliminal take on our increasingly passive society, of people turning away from community and nature, instead towards consumerism both of the physical and digital ether. Unfortunately the shell of that message - of forgotten Gods throughout history having to make ends meet - just doesnít make a whole lot of sense. American Gods is a show rife with deus ex machina, of one side being split - that being the historical Gods - into as many forms as there are people who worship them, yet the opposing side is conveniently a single all powerful form. It just doesn't jive within the narrative rules of the world Gaiman has crafted. But heck, as mentioned from the outset, American Gods is a story involving leprechauns and zombies, seriousness is not on the agenda.

Special Features

San Diego Comic-Con Panel Footage - The full 50 odd minute panel where American Gods was revealed to fans and attended by the majority of cast, showrunners Bryan Fuller, Michael Green and author Neil Gaiman.

Cast Interviews - A slew of interviews (ranging between 7 to 13 minutes long) with Ricky Whittle, Ian McShane, Bruce Langley and Emily Browning as they discuss their thoughts on the book, their characters and the camaraderie on set.

American Gods Origins with Neil Gaiman - A 15 minute long sit down with author Neil Gaiman, who divulges how the book came to be, the troubles he faced and his inspirations along the way.

Book Vs Show - A short 4 minute vignette explaining what fans of the book can come to expect from the show and some of the changes made.

New Gods - A 5 minute long vignette delving into the new technological Gods played by Bruce Langley, Crispin Glover and Gillian Anderson.

New Gods - A 7 minute long vignette delving into the old natural Gods of Bilquis (Yetide Badaki), Czernobog (Peter Stormare), Nancy (Orlando Jones), Anubis (Chris Obi) and of course Mr Wednesday.

What is American Gods? - A short 4 minute vignette of the cast and crew giving a quick synopsis of American Gods.

Thereís some bountiful special features that fans of American Gods will really be able to sink their teeth into. Of particular note is the featurette focusing on book author Neil Gaiman, that not only has high production values - feeling like a mini documentary - but thereís some great information she shares on the creation of his book that Iím sure fans will love.

Sadly on the other side of that coin, is no commentary of any kind available within the DVD release. Itís a shame as American Gods contains a lot of symbolism and stylistic choices that I would love to have seen elaborated upon.

I was honestly expecting a lot more from American Gods, but for as much bombastic visual flair it throws your way, thereís not a whole lot happening underneath its eight episode surface, with the first season being merely an introduction of (hopefully) better things to come.

Fans of the American Gods book will definitely be able to delve into some of the special features on offer, for everyone else though you arenít missing a whole lot - at least yet anyway.

A DVD review copy of American Gods was provided by the distributor for review purposes.

  • Review by
    David Robinson

    Twitter: @5ypher

    Posted on
    31st July 2017

  • 3 Out of 5 Stars
  • Not a lot happens in the main story

    Narrative fails to make sense within world

    No commentary special feature

  • Visually breathtaking

    Play on consumerism

    Dynamic between two leads

    Short segments

Film Info

American Gods - Season 1 American Gods
(Season 1)

Rating: 18
Medium: DVD
Episode/s: 8
Creator/s: Bryan Fuller, Michael Green & Neil Gaiman
Starring: Ricky Whittle, Ian McShane, Emily Browning, Yetide Badaki & Bruce Langley

  • True Blood
  • Dead Like Me
  • Pushing Daisies

No, the show contains full nudity (both male and female), murder and plenty of gore.

The first season covers just one fifth of the American Gods book.

The character of Laura (Emily Browning) was greatly expanded upon just for the television show.

Nicolas Cage was approached to play the role of Mr Wednesday but turned it down, despite liking the script. He cited the commitment of doing a TV show as the main reason for turning it down.

Season 1 originally had 10 episodes, but after seeing the cuts for episodes 3 and 4, the producers decided to merge them into one single episode.

The first couple of episodes were filmed like a feature (non linearly), the rest were filmed as normal.