Review: American Gods, Season 1

Based off the novel by Neil Gaiman of the same name, Starz’ American Gods premiered in early May and concluded its first season this past weekend. Starz is not typically known for it’s stellar TV series, especially when it comes to the world of Premium Cable Network. Starz is like the MTV of these networks, and it basically copies the things that it thinks people like about shows on HBO and others. Spartacus: Blood and Sand is nothing but terribly choreographed sword fights and sex scenes, both of which are often used (mostly in jest) when talking about HBO’s monstrously popular Game of Thrones. Basically, the executives at Starz decided to make a show about sword fighting and sex since they thought it was a new trend, but failed to actually watch GoT and find out why people liked it so much.

Why American Gods intrigued me so, I cannot say. I had yet to see anything on Starz that looked even half-way decent. But, watching the trailers and creator interviews showed me that there was something different about this show when stacked up next to their other programs; it looked more professionally shot, the cast was full of proven powerhouses as well as hopeful newcomers, and the concept just seemed so interesting! I figured I didn’t have anything to lose by giving this show a fair chance.

Writing: 7.5/10

I was right about one thing: the plot is very intriguing. To quickly summarize (no spoilers): the show is about how gods (mostly from ancient mythologies and pagan beliefs, but also from major religions) made their way from their homelands to America, and how their existences have drastically changed since then. In the world of the show, gods are created via human belief, and they are given power through this belief and through worship. In the old days, this meant that the gods were mostly beings of legend and folklore. However, in modern day America, the “new gods” are concepts rather than people or creatures. Globalization, Technology, and Media are the big three new gods locked in a feud with the old gods as they struggle to keep humanity and the dwindling old gods under their control. The show is a very compelling commentary on our dependence on these new gods, and how they affect our systems of values and beliefs.

The show pays careful attention to dialogue. I was (and still am) most impressed by the show’s nearly complete lack of exposition, which is no small feat in a story that introduces its characters and its audience to an unfamiliar world. The potential negative side effects of this are that a lot of questions will be left unanswered, and you will be left in the dark often. The positive effect is that it forces you to think (which I understand might not be a good thing for some of you) deeper about what is happening on the show and the images you see.

Now for the negatives. While the dialogue helps create some great characters, unfortunately, the ones that seem to be most lacking are the two (seemingly) human ones: Shadow (Ricky Whittle) and Laura (Emily Browning). Hopefully, this will be different leading into season 2, but it was still a noticeable con because of the next – and biggest – negative.

There is an ungodly (heh) amount of time spent on Laura, who is without a doubt the most unlikeable and uninteresting character in the story so far. Think I’m being too harsh? Then I’d ask you to please consider the fact that Laura has two episodes out of the eight dedicated entirely to herself. While I’m sure that her relationship with Shadow will play a bigger role in the coming seasons, in this season, she felt like a waste of time.

Me (right) after watching the two Laura episodes.
Me (right) after watching the two Laura episodes.

Acting: 8/10

The casting for this show is impeccable. Ian McShane (Mr. Wednesday), Gillian Anderson (Media), and Kristin Chenoweth (Easter; not the Jesus one, the bunny and chocolate one) are just a few of the well-known names and faces that add a lot of power to this cast. Ricky Whittle (Shadow), Pablo Schreiber (Mad Sweeney), and Orlando Jones (Mr. Nancy, who you might recognize as the door salesman from Office Space) are a few lesser-known actors who shine when given the chance.

Ricky Whittle (center) being haunted by Media (Gillian Anderson)
Ricky Whittle (center) being haunted by Media (Gillian Anderson)

Visuals: 7.2/10

American Gods is one of the more artfully crafted shows that I have seen on television. While shows like Mr. Robot and Breaking Bad have unique styles that work incredibly well for themselves, this show sets itself apart by making extensive use of montage editing. No, that does not mean that there are a lot of these throughout the show.

Peter Stormare (left) menacingly challenging Ian McShane (right) to a game of chess.
Peter Stormare (left) menacingly challenging Ian McShane (right) to a game of chess.

While the editing is great, the direction is mostly conventional with a few interesting choices made each episode. Also, the color grading is very bland, which is odd when put in comparison with the show’s intro. The other slight negative is that season 1 had an abysmally low budget for CGI, so there are a few instances that look pretty bad.

Music: 7.9/10

While the original score is not as memorable or iconic as something you might hear from Ramin Djawadi on Game of Thrones, it does wonderfully to help shape the tone of the series. The original music is done by Brian Reitzell, and is mostly made up of various jazz pieces. But, like the nature of jazz (and humanity’s own fickle nature), the music often changes styles, resulting in a score that seems to be all over the place (note that I’m saying this is a positive, not a negative).

X-Factor: 8/10, for this amazing intro

Overall: 7.8/10

American Gods has been the most surprising thing of the summer so far. There must have been some divine intervention for this show to get an early summer premiere on the same summer that Game of Thrones got pushed back into mid-July. Surely this show would have been forgotten in the midst of what promises to be GoT’s best season. I know very few people with access to Starz, so this show might be difficult to get a hold of, but I would recommend it to anyone. Lovers of arthouse are sure to appreciate it for its philosophical commentary, and people who stick to more conventional television are still sure to find something familiar and intriguing.

Peter Stormare ensuring that I give his show a good review.
Peter Stormare ensuring that I give his show a good review.

I’ll be the first to say that this is a very weird show, but it’s unlike anything you’ve seen on TV before. Still, there’s no doubt in my mind that this is going to be a polarizing show. You’ll either hate it, or be totally immersed in the show’s craft. The creators of this show (Bryan Fuller and Michael Green) could have made another sub-par Starz series that puts battles and boobs above everything else, but they chose the high road and are going for something that is much more meaningful.

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