This review contains NO SPOILERS for the pilot episode
The STARZ adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods focuses in on the weirdness of the book, and sets aside the more grounded and mundane elements of the story. The show is visually loud and every moment is filled with music. This is a larger-than-life story. Bryan Fuller and his team do their best to leave the audience feeling as overwhelmed and confused as the story’s hero, Shadow Moon.
A good example of the tone of the show is the opening title sequence. Many shows are moving to minimalist title cards that leave more time for storytelling. This title sequence is lavish and long. A kaleidoscope of colors, icons, and music. It mixes the modern and the ancient in bold over-the-top ways. I mean, there is a crucified astronaut! This will not be for everyone. The book was very polarizing for readers, and the show is embracing what makes it unique.
It is that car crash of the ancient magical gods and tacky modern aesthetic that fuel the surreal motion of the pilot. Dreamscapes and the real world swirl and mix until we are in an America that we have never seen before. Blinking neon, votive candles, nightmare forests, and sleek limousine interiors are the building blocks of the ‘American Gods’ visual language.
The pace of the pilot feels as breathless as the visuals are surreal. Shadow is pushed from moment to moment a little too quickly for my taste, but it keeps him (and us) off-balance. The editing is fast. We never linger on any scene or image for too long. I worry about people who have never read the book being able to follow along. I was left unsure about the direction this adaptation was taking by the end. If the idea was to leave us feeling confused, the pilot may succeed too well.
The pilot of any series can be the worst example of what that show really is, though. It serves so many masters. It has to convince the finance company that it is worth investing in. It has to introduce a world, characters, and establish a conflict that will fuel at least a season of story. And it has to establish a tone, visual language, and style that will be the model for every subsequent episode. That is a lot for forty-some-odd minutes of TV. I think ‘American Gods’ accomplishes many of those things. You have never seen a modern-day fantasy series this visually lavish, and the world it manifests is singular.
For people who are left unconvinced, I would encourage you to watch a couple more episodes. The show finds its footing quickly, and each episode is better than the last. The show isn’t for everyone, but it is so singular and bold that I think it is worth giving it a fair shot.
‘American Gods’ premieres on STARZ April 30th. Our show will be live-tweeting along, so please follow us @ShadowShambler. We will be using #shamblers that night. We want to hear your reactions. Our episode covering the premiere will drop that night so you can listen along in the morning. Be sure to tell us what you think! Also, we will have a full review of that, and every, episode here on our review blog.