If you're a television fan, you've quickly learned that the time we're in, right now, is the new Golden Age of the medium. From House of Cards, to Atlanta, to Game of Thrones, and everything in between - there is beauty hiding inside every computer or television set. With recent releases like The Handmaid's Tale, or Dear White People, we can tell that's not going to slow down any time soon.
Then, comes American Gods. Just when you thought the wheel couldn't possibly be reinvented, Starz goes and brings to life Neil Gaiman's classic novel, and the floodgates of the human imagination are opened once again.
The series revolves around Shadow Moon, a man who's wife is tragically killed on the week he's supposed to leave prison. Amidst his grief, this down-to-earth man begins have visions of the world beyond his, which culminates in a run-in with the enigmatic Mr. Wednesday. After taking a job with the mysterious man, Shadow begins to find himself in a clash between old gods, and the new order.
Right off the bat, viewers will be captivated by the grotesque beauty of this series. The first episode begins with a five-minute sequence about how a certain god came to America, and a Viking blood-bath quickly ensued. Heads were split open, limbs were hacked off, and the color scheme used by (dir.) David Slade sets the tone for the series moving forward.
As cringe-worthy as this scene may be, it is only the tip of the iceberg going forward. Around every corner of the premiere episode, there is some other mesmerizing detail to behold - including some things you never thought you'd see on television. The risks taken in American Gods are extraordinary, and they pay massive dividends.
...Well, for the most part.
The bold choices in direction make for one big viewing problem - the plot seems all over the place. Each scene is beautiful in its own right, but they seem to exist in separate realms; one scene ends, another begins, and viewers have a hard time weaving the pieces together. The ambiguous nature of the series is definitely intentional, but it can only go on for so long.
Fortunately, American Gods does work toward fixing itself - you just have to stay patient. Each and every one of these scenes is working toward a pay-off; there is just so much set up to do in the premiere, it takes a little bit of time.
That's all to say: the set-up is very enjoyable. You get a chance to meet the characters, the gods in particular, and they're all unlike anything you've ever seen outside of a theatrical setting.
Ian McShane leads the pack, and he brings the kind of vigorous attitude and dark sense of humor fans expect. Pair that with the arrogant demeanor of Pablo Schreiber, and the terrifying sexuality of Yetide Badaki, and it's easy to truly accept their characters as much more than mortal. The actors' talents bring the gods to life in wonderful ways, creating the kind of gods you'd never expect.
Almost every character seems over the top and unfamiliar, with the exception of Shadow Moon, played by Ricky Whittle. Moon is the single character that brings this hodge-podge of odd characters into the beautiful disaster that is our current reality.
Much like the main character in DC Comics' classic storyline Kingdom Come, Moon is necessary to get the reader invested. These gods - similar to Superman and Wonder Woman - aren't very much like us. Kingdom Come brought the story to us regular folks by telling it through the eyes of a simple preacher; American Gods does the same, but through the eyes of Ricky Whittle. To put it simply, the show wouldn't work without a perfect performance from Whittle, and he does everything but disappoint.
The actor, fairly unknown to most, carries each and every scene he's in, and grounds the story so that viewers can enjoy what's taking place on the screen. He has a way of bringing a complicated undertone to his subtle moments, and it captures the response many people have when trying to truly understand something that's, well, beyond understanding.
American Gods will shock viewers - jaws will drop on more than one occasion - and that's the great thing about it. We've never seen a show like this, and you'll want to keep watching.
However, beauty never exactly comes without a price, and that mantra is the lone plague facing Starz' newest series. If you can be patient, and accept the initial confusion, you will be rewarded time and time again.
Official Score: 4/5 Stars.
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