Neil Gaimon sure can make some of the weirdest content in any medium doesn’t he? I mean he creates things like Stardust, a fantasy adventure story about a boy and a humanoid star, and then comes out of nowhere and creates one of the weirdest television series I have seen so far. American Gods is a show that will pull no punches, leaves everything out in the open for whatever reason and will leave you often confused after an episode finishes. Much like everything of Gaimon’s I have come across I have been pleasantly surprised at how different each of his works feel. Yet they always maintain this feeling of mystique that never fails to delight, but it is almost always hard to tell how effective they are. The absurdity can be a bit too blinding and if you get lost in an episode/film chances are you might not be able to explain your reasoning. So with all that said, is American Gods a brilliant homerun for team Gaimon or is it a bit too incoherent to effectively engage us in the brilliant absurdity?
American Gods is a series based in the fact that gods have existed as long as people have believed in them. People’s belief is what creates these gods and when faith in a god dissipates, the god dies. Old gods are those that came to America through their believers and the new gods are those created from society’s dependence on technology. Hence gods like Odin, Anubis, and even the Leprechaun can meet with other new gods like Mr. World, Media and Techno-Boy. Disparity ensues and of course it will become a clash of the old against the new. That is the set up for the story, yet the man who we are glued to goes by the name of Shadow Moon. The observer of these events, Shadow was a conman sent to jail and as soon as he leaves jail comes to find his wife has been killed just days before. His unlikely meeting with a man only known by “Mr. Wednesday” forces him into this mystical war of belief and he is our viewpoint into this strange world.
The idea of American Gods, on paper, is something that my friend didn’t need to sell me on yet I don’t think I would have watched it without him choosing it for a weekly watch with the group. The story sounds intriguing, but at times that can be misleading. The story of American Gods is nowhere near as epic or as fast moving as a “war” in the first season. It is a roadtrip with several viewpoints all moving towards the same endpoint which is Shadow Moon and the war itself. We see gods, supernatural beings and learn all about their backstories and trials in surviving America. This is interesting, especially when you are given great story and character to ground yourself in this abnormal world. Though there is one big problem I found with the story of American Gods in its first season…that the story kind of exists but it doesn’t. A more aimless roadtrip between Shadow and Mr. Wednesday meeting gods here and there, then there is another group looking for something which actually is far more interesting than the main storyline. In a way, you want the story to derail itself because then you get solid moments from the amazing Mad Sweeney.
When a show makes you want to derail the story to get back to the fun bits that can be a bit draining since most of the first season focuses entirely on Mr. Wednesday and Shadow Moon. Mr. Wednesday played by Ian McShane is not the element I wasn’t fond of in the pair or really even Shadow Moon, it was more of the run around they did. This roadtrip travelled to different gods, with each being a unique experience upon themselves. Yet each experience boiled down to the same song and dance but with a different dressing. There were good characters, interesting moments, but the real entertainment and excitement seemed to revolve around Mad Sweeney for some reason. There are other reasons as to why I think the main adventure at times felt odd, mainly the scenes of different gods that at times add next to nothing to the story at hand (at least immediately) and still overstay their welcome with how little information it needs to convey yet draws out. I understand that it is Neil Gaimon doing his own work, but he changed up some elements to fit the confines of television apparently so why not make these easier to digest.
This series felt like it was everywhere and nowhere throughout its runtime. The world felt grand and the lore enticing, but the story became so aimless in moments that I was wondering when they were going to start progressing. Only in the final few episodes does that in fact happen and answers are finally starting to come, yet we still don’t understand the grand scheme of things. It of course leaves you on a cliffhanger because they now that they are getting a second season, but still makes the entire season feel almost aimless in the end. The backstories on the gods is interesting with even a few of those far too long random scenes focusing on random gods that you wonder why they are even focused on at that moment managing to have fun moments. On their own they are interesting, but they don’t help to really serve the narrative well.
So it then brings up the main purpose as to why you will most likely watch this weird acid trip of a series that is over the top and holds nothing back, the talent and characters. There is no weak link in the chain for actors in this series as everyone gives a grand performance worthy of such a surreal world. Ian McShane, Peter Stormare, Cloris Leachman, Crispin Glover, Pablo Schreiber are just some of the great acting talent in this series and somehow they make this weird world come to life and make each line sound natural. That is hard to do especially when you hear some of the lines uttered, yet you never feel like what they are saying is awkward or takes you out of the experience. Instead Gaimon and his cast do such a fine job of building everything up that you almost believe it yourself. That is how this series will grab you, because not much else really stands out to me besides the insane presentation.
The presentation is at times a bit too far or a bit too self-indulgent in how much time it spends on specific scenes and sequences. Many who have watched it will agree with me how awkward this series can get especially with those little god vignettes I talked about, particularly one goddess called Bilquis. This is not a show that shrinks back from sexuality and sensuality, nor the showing of such acts and therefore I would say this is one of the more daring television shows I have watched that doesn’t pander with its scenes. This isn’t True Blood where sensuality is merely the window dressing, this is a show that understands what these mythical beings are and how they should be shown. Brutality will be at its fullest in scenes which can make one a bit uncomfortable and that is what Gaimon is aiming for. He wants you on edge and he wants you to question a lot of what is going on.
So in the end, does this series hold up past the insanity? Well it most certainly is not for everyone and I most certainly would never watch this with family, but there is a spark here. It has something undeniably unique to it and surprisingly entertaining to watch for the most part. The performances will shine and more than likely you will question where the show wants to go as it takes a really long time to finally start to open the door regarding the point of this series. Shadow Moon may not be the most interesting observer, but when the world he is observing and the characters surrounding him are so captivating to watch I honestly didn’t mind as much. I predict the second season will give more to the spectacle and the performances will only grow with nuance, but as of now the first season is a bit too mixed for me to give a blanket recommendation. I’d say only if you are daring enough to enter the wonderful madness.
I had to put Ghibli week on the back burner for one day as I haven’t gotten around to watching another one of the films. So thankfully I finally got to talk about American Gods Season 1 and I think there is one more post I need to do for it to truly get some justice as to why I enjoy it so much despite not being so fond of it rating wise. I love crazy things what can I say?
So have you watched American Gods Season 1? What do you think about the works of Neil Gaimon? Feel free to leave a comment down below and don’t forget to have yourself a fantastic day!