I have never read Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods” novel, which is obviously what this show is based on. But I was still very interested in it because I enjoy mythology and legends revolving around gods and monsters. What I didn’t expect, however, was how incredibly well-done this show would be. Sexy, violent, visually stunning, and most of all brilliantly-written, “American Gods” is one of the most impressively well-made television series of 2017.
BE WARNED: In order to provide a proper review of the season as a whole, there will be some minor spoilers regarding a couple characters and story points. If you wish to avoid any spoilers, please skip to the last paragraph where I provide my overall thoughts on the show.
In this world, gods are very real and in a lot of trouble, or at least the Old Gods are. The Old Gods used to rule the world, worshipped by millions and sacrificed/offered to every single day. But, with time, people begin to forget and move on, placing their faith and belief in new ideas and creations, whether it’s calling someone on the phone or watching videos on the internet, thus inherently creating New Gods and worshipping them.
Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) has just gotten out of prison after his wife Laura (Emily Browning) dies in a car crash. He feels his life has nothing left in it until he meets a mysterious Old God who calls himself Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane), who hires Shadow to help him find others like him in order to rally them by his side in the war between the Old Gods and the New Gods.
From start to finish, even though there’s so much to love about this show, two things stand out as high points: The characters and the world they live in.
Start with the characters, a lot of them are fleshed out with either an incredible performance, a strong character arc, or both. On the side of the Old Gods, Ian McShane embraces the role of Mr. Wednesday as his own and is clearly having fun in the role, providing exceptional humor and a calculating, mystifying demeanor all at once, making him a really fun character to watch, while Ricky Whittle adds a bit of humanity to the show as Shadow Moon, making him a likeable and relatable conduit into this realm of gods.
You also have Laura Moon, who is on her own separate journey after she’s mysteriously brought back to life. Thanks to the 4th episode in particular, she has become one of the most, if not the most, complex and well-rounded characters on the show, and Emily Browning elevates the character by mixing cynicism and charisma, which isn’t easy to do. She also teams up with Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber), a leprechaun you wouldn’t think is a leprechaun from first viewing, and Erik Schreiber does an exceptional job making the character a badass filled with charm. Together, Moon and Sweeney provide some of the best, maybe even the best, chemistry out of all the characters throughout the entire series.
As for the rest of the Old Gods that appear, I can’t really get too into them simply because there’s so many of them to talk about. What I will say is that they’re all fantastically portrayed and incredibly well-acted.
With the New Gods, however, there’s only one standout: Media (Gillian Anderson), the goddess of all media, including film, television, and music. Gillian Anderson’s responsibility as Media is to act as several different celebrities and characters from pop culture, which she does magnificently, perfectly mimicking their voices, gestures, and speech. While I won’t give away who she impersonates, she’s certainly a delight to watch onscreen.
The series, along with its characters, is able to fully flesh out the vast, diverse world the gods thrive in and make the most out of it. At the beginning of most of the episodes, there’s a segment titled “Coming to America,” which depicts the different cultures and people that arrived in America, at the same time bringing their Gods into the land of opportunity. Showcasing some of the best moments of the series, the “Coming to America” scenes encapsulate just how vast and open the world of gods can be. These gods come from all over, from Egypt, Mexico, West Africa, and so much more. From the premiere to the finale, it feels as though we’ve only scratched the surface in terms of just the sheer number of gods and monsters that exist in this world, so I’m very curious as to who else will be included in the large roster of characters in season 2.
But like every TV show and film, perfection is nonexistent. “American Gods” does occasionally stumble into moments that were unnecessary and a bit meandering. For example, a scene where a cop is interrogating Shadow and Wednesday felt out of place because of its length and because nothing really came out of it other than to use up time.
Overall, the first season of “American Gods” was a thrill ride of mystical proportions from beginning to end. Showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green brought us a series hell-bent on introducing us to a world brimming with spirit, whether it’s with its fantastically-written characters, its expansion of a world dominated by gods and monsters, or both. Even though it has its fair share of technical issues here and there, it nevertheless delivered exactly what you’d want out of show of its caliber, which is a journey of godlike proportions across the land of opportunity.