Review | 'American Gods' Episode 1 opens up a thrilling world of gods, legends and old-fashioned fist fighting

TELEVISION | The long-anticipated adaptation of Neil Gaiman's incredible novel is the TV event we've been waiting for

Bloody sacrifices and magic magic tricks open the long-awaited series based on Neil Gaiman's beloved novel.

Neil Gaiman's 2001 novel, American Gods, has always been a beast of a story brimming with mythology, legend, superstition, short stories and amazing characters. The story of the gods left behind by all of the explorers and immigrants who came to the U.S. since the first discoveries of North America and before, the novel follows fresh-out-of-prison Shadow Moon as he's swept up into a war of proportions he never imagined.

Much like James Cameron couldn't make Avatar until the available CGI technology caught up to his ambitions, Gaiman and the networks interested couldn't adapt American Gods until the right storytelling medium presented itself. One movie couldn't contain more than a fraction of the book's material and the story doesn't lend itself to a saga of movies. HBO tried to pick up the project but failed. Now, in the new, so-called Golden Age of television, Starz has achieved what many writers, directors and producers have been dreaming of since the early 2000s.

The first episode premiered last Sunday and sparked hype from readers of the novel and new viewers alike. For anyone who has read the book, fears of an unfaithful adaptation have already disappeared. Showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green have begun the series with all of the blood (seriously, Final Destination or 300 amounts of blood), mystery, humor and mythology of the novel.

(Warning: the spoilers start here).


Shadow, played by Ricky Whittle, captures all of the character's anger, caution and distrust in his first interactions in prison. "I feel like there's a f****** axe hanging over my head," he says to his wife, Laura, on what proves to be his last phone call from prison. When the axe drops, Shadow unwittingly plunges into the strange world of Mr. Wednesday as his "driver," though the virtual-reality techno-kid and his faceless henchmen at the end of the episode reveal that Shadow's picked up more than a part-time Uber job.

Wednesday's name and even his quick, witty dialogue are like mixed homages to Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs and a character like Roger Sterling. But it's the way the episode is bookended by ridiculously bloody scenes that wants to attract fans of what will be its major fantasy-genre rival: Game of Thrones. Though very different, American Gods clearly has some of that audience in mind with its ruthlessly graphic adaptation of the scenes of sacrifice and fighting in Gaiman's novel.

The bloody opening scene also immediately sets up the plain reality of gods in this world: they do exist, and they are not all benevolent. The show, like the novel, looks to explore the vast mythology of gods and legends from around the world and the implications for this age of technology worship. It also looks like the show's creators have made the right moves updating the late 90s and early 2000s technology to modern devices, without any cheesy jokes or unrealistic concessions.

Neil Gaiman, who help write parts of the episodes, revealed to The Guardian that he might write more for Season 2, though there's no word on when that might come out. But that hint makes it clear that this isn't a miniseries, an eight- or ten- or fourteen-hour adaptation of his book. This is going to be a comprehensive, multi-season show (the first season is reportedly only about a fifth of the book) because that is probably the only way to achieve all of what the book achieves.

Gaiman, who has also written short stories and the immensely popular Sandman comics (as well as other novels and the illustrated book, Coraline), writes in a very episodic style, perfect for a network like Starz in the current TV atmosphere. Looking forward to Episode 2, expect more excellent action, more mystery and more of Wednesday throwing Shadow into situations for which he's completely unprepared.

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It airs Sundays at 9pm Eastern. Watch the trailer for Episode 2 below:


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