Sixteen years after its release, author Neil Gaiman's revered and award-winning novel finally hits the television screen as Starz last night debuted their new series, American Gods. Before this, my only experience with Gaiman's work is his graphic novel series Sandman; another story deserving of an adaptation of some sort in the television or film universes. Having heard nothing but great things from friends of mine who have read American Gods, I felt that I should start it myself before the series began. While I have yet to finish, I am far enough in to be able to start the series.
Right off the bat, here's two things I can say regarding the book and the series.
1) This book may be the most "out there" book I have ever read. I have read plenty of sci-fi and fantasy, but this novel takes the cake, bringing me out of my usual comfort zone in storytelling and shooting me out into the heavens, you might say.
2) As of this pilot, the series is staying extremely close to the source material. Literally page for page.
The series begins with a quick rundown of a group of Vikings setting foot in America back in the year 831 C.E. and the 'bad luck' they encounter while being there. From there, we go on to our main story; that of Shadow Moon. As he awaits his release date from prison, he is released by the warden a few days early due to a personal circumstance: Shadow's wife, Laura, died in a car accident early that morning. Finding an early flight home, Shadow meets a man by the name of Mr. Wednesday, who offers him a job working for him as somewhat of a bodyguard.
This series shows a tremendous focus on stunning (and very graphic) visuals. Nearly every scene is a work of art, especially the dream sequences Shadow has, ranging from a Milky Way-like sky, trees with razor sharp branches and a buffalo with fire eyes. The violence is bloody graphic, in no way holding back on severed limbs and pools of blood. Staying true to Gaiman's novel, this is a must, earning that TV-MA rating. Through these moments, we see Shadow struggle with what's happening in the real world (losing his wife and best friend) and what's happening in his mind (the odd dreams he is suffering from).
The casting of characters is perfect. Ian McShane is spot on as Mr. Wednesday, settling into the role with a strong charisma that is verbalized with that gruff tone of his. Ricky Whittle has the great mix of being able to present this powerful physique and yet express this emotional confusion Shadow has. Rounding out the talented cast in this episode is the entertaining Pablo Schreiber as the sketchy Irishman, Mad Sweeney.
As he attends his wife's funeral, Shadow is informed by his best friend's widow, Audrey, that her husband and Laura (without getting too into detail) were having an affair. After unleashing his anger by yelling at her through the grave and dodging the revenge-filled sexual advances of Audrey, Shadow finds himself in the hands of what can only be described as a "technical boy" who demands information about Mr. Wednesday. When Shadow is unable to provide the information he is asking for, Shadow finds himself in a deadly situation he can't escape...not without help.
American Gods airs Sunday nights at 9pm ET on Starz or on the Starz mobile app.