I have fond memories of growing up with a wild imagination. Daydreams of clouds, castles and talking animals were my friends and marveled in the glow of the silly, impractical and odd stories I would come up with. Add about 10 years to those daydreams and stories, and here I am, a 20-something writer with an unencumbered taste for imaginative stories and surreal beliefs that television could come close to depicting the magic of words and imagination. Luckily, American Gods has not disappointed me.
Based on the brilliant and eerily foreseeing novel by Neil Gaiman of the same name, Starz’s American Gods is a TV series that depicts the complex relationship between people and what they choose to believe in, in an extremely violent, sexual and satirical manner that translates into stunning imagery and impactful critique on the world.
The show visualizes the impending war between the world’s old gods and the new, showcasing their different ideologies and following the character Shadow Moon as he gets caught in-between the gods. The show’s creators, Bryan Fuller and Michael Green, encapsulates the novel’s visual dreamland of historical and modern day deities perfectly, and brings the novel, which was written in 2001, to today by tweaking certain characters and their mannerisms. It seems to be an almost seamless transition from novel to script.
The show places emphasis on a lot of controversial topics, such as the destruction of religion, homosexuality, racism and cultural shocks. Each scene dealing with these issues was expertly shot by veteran director David Slade, and had a fantasy and satirical approach to heavy topics. That, I believe, is one of the many successes of the show.
Let’s delve deeper into the story line. American Gods follows Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), an ex-convict recently released, as he makes his way home after finding out his beloved wife, Laura Moon (Emily Browning), passed in a car accident. On his way home to Indiana, he meets a man, his first words to Shadow being: “This must be your lucky day, huh?” Upon engaging with him, he introduces himself as Mr. Wednesday (played by the incredible Ian McShane), his personality as odd as his name. He offers Shadow a job as his bodyguard, and soon the pair becomes entangled in the bizarre world of the gods.
Throughout the series, the audience meets seemingly average people, who are in fact old-world deities living as ordinary citizens in modern America. What I found interesting is how they are all portrayed as powerless individuals living in a world where they have become mere myths, and how they seek to either regain power, or cause general chaos. (I had to read up on each of the gods as I had no idea who they were, which just shows one of the points the series tries to make.)
Bilqius, the Queen of Sheba, is a seductive, beautiful woman who indulges in sexual pleasures with men and women, and swallows them whole through her genitals to gain power and restore her greatness as it once was. Interestingly enough, she uses the power of social media to find partners though dating apps. Anansi, also known as Mr. Nancy, is a stylish, retro jazz man who is also a spider, who comes to the aid of slavers on a Dutch ship, and delivers one of the best speeches on the injustice of black men and women over 300 years I have ever heard. (Emmy-nomination, anyone?) He still keeps it light though, as he is a god who likes to make fun of people for their stupidity, by biding the black slavers to take swimming lessons, adding “this is how we get stereotypes.” Mad Sweeney, a king from Irish folklore, is a red-haired happy-go-lucky guy who refers to himself as a ‘leprechaun’, perhaps to indicate how the world sees Irishmen: foul-mouthed, frequent drinkers, small and rich in gold. The most controversial of spiritual deities is Ifrit, a variation of a dijjn, with pre-Islamic Middle Eastern roots. He engages in a passionate homosexual love scene with an Omani-salesman. Like I said before, this show tackles A LOT of topics.
The audience will also get to meet the new gods of the world. Techno Boy (Bruce Langley), embodies the young millennial: he vapes, wears odd fashions and curses repeatedly. He represents people’s obsession with technology, and how the smartphone has become the new bible. In a conversation with Shadow, Techno Boy states the hard truth of today’s world: technology has taken over. “..We have reprogrammed reality. Language is a virus, religion an operation system and prayer is just so much f*cking spam.” Media (Gillian Anderson) comes to shadow in the form of Lucy Ricardo, a fictional character from the television show ‘I Love Lucy’, and explains to Shadow how she came to become a god. “…The screens the altar, and I’m the one they sacrifice to, golden age to golden age. They sit side by side, ignore each other and give it up to me. Time and attention, better than lamb’s blood.”
Technology and media have become the religion of the new world, while old ones are forgotten. Being able to hear, see and touch these new gods is what drives people to believe in them – technology is inviting and media is so accessible, it’s easy to consider the old gods, well, old. As man progresses, so does his god. What people want, what they need and what they find comfort in has changed, and it is much more rewarding to be retweeted or liked on social media than to have a conversation with a god today. The show calls out the entire world on their bull, and I absolutely love it.
The show has only aired three episodes, and many old and new gods are still to come. Based on the novel, the story will show the development of each character, particularly that of Shadow, and the dark secrets Mr. Wednesday hides. I am giddy with excitement to watch the plot thicken even more and watch the battle of the gods unfold.
The themes American Gods showcase are relevant if not super important. It shows how people need to believe in something in order to thrive, whether it be a god, religion, or even love. The acting is absolutely brilliant and the director, David Slade, must be a mad genius, for he has pulled off some hardcore scenes and made the whole show, which is based on myth and fantasy, believable.
I think what is the most shocking and most truthful part of the show is the opening credits. It shows colorful images of old religious icons being violated by the new icons of today that people worship, such as the Buddha, surrounded by drugs, and the Hindu god Ganesha on a platform of weapons. The haunting images provoke morbid feelings of irony and a sad truth that encapsulates the point of the show: the deterioration of religion from the past, and the worship of new, seemingly better, icons of today. Whether American Gods shows progress, destruction or sheer fantasy, each individual takes something different from it. If you’re not inclined to do that, merely enjoy an imaginative, surreal and surprisingly spot-on show depicting the idiocy of the world. I personally marvel at the irony.