After years of development, the adaptation of one of Neil Gaiman’s most notable works has made it to the small screen. To prepare, I re-read the novel and his recently released Norse Mythology (definitely recommended). There will be some book discussion but I’ll reserve the spoilery talk for my fifth thought, which will always be dedicated to talking about adaptation choices. In the premiere episode, Shadow gets released from prison only to find he has nothing to come back to, but Mr. Wednesday is eager to fix that problem. Beware, spoilers for the episode will follow.
1. Oh My Gods, That Cast
If their marketing can use it, I can. While we only get to spend a little time with a couple characters besides Shadow, it’s looking very promising. Ricky Whittle portrays Shadow perfectly as the stone faced character in the book, but he also jumps on the brief moments that his emotions get to poke through. Ian McShane brings the swagger of Deadwood’s Al Swearengen along with the ability to shift moods at a moment’s notice depending on what Mr Wednesday’s current objective is. The couple scenes that we got to spend with Low Key Lyesmith and Mad Sweeney made me really look forward to seeing them pop up again. I’m really enjoying Jonathon Tucker’s portrayal of Low Key. His delivery is just ridiculous enough that you have to really think about trusting what he’s saying because he’s saying it with such conviction. All the while, you can almost see the twinkle in his eye as he imparts his advice to Shadow.
2. Bryan Fuller’s Playground
For those not familiar with Fuller’s work, he was showrunner for Dead Like Me, Pushing Daisies, and most recently Hannibal. Fuller has always constructed a sort of hyper reality in his shows, like the storybook setting of Pushing Daisies or the crazy visions and visceral jump cuts in Hannibal. So the god-inhabited world of American Gods is a perfect fit. The visual language of the show so far is astounding. Jack’s Crocodile Bar may be my new favorite TV/film watering hole. Realizing that the bar lamps are actually the glowing teeth of said crocodile was a fun reveal. The other moment that really stood out to me was the image of Shadow being strung up in the rain. That scene was a great way to end the first episode and a stark image to leave us with. Although I could have done without the CGI guts.
3. Technical Boy Needs An Upgrade
One of my only complaints about the show is how bad the CGI is. It’s to the point that it becomes distracting. Technical Boy’s VR limo is a nice update from the books, where he was the only part that felt a little dated. But the effects look like someone just did it on their home computer. I’m guessing it’s a budget thing, but the only other Starz show I really have any experience with is Spartacus and I remember the effects being similarly terrible. Hopefully they improve as the show goes on, or they get a little more strategic about using it.
4. Somewhere In America
I’ve come to learn that this scene is somewhat notorious, and with good reason. Bilquis *ahem* consuming a worshiper should be graphic, shocking, and a little (okay, maybe a lot) uncomfortable. The issue here is that because of the low quality visual effects, there’s a lot of weirdness with the depiction. They’re trying to show as much as possible but obviously a human body can’t do that. As soon as she starts stuffing him in, everything gets a little fuzzy and becomes very distracting for all the wrong reasons. The placement of the scene also feels a little off. Interlude chapters can really shine in book form, but handling them in a TV show requires some tweaking. The use of the viking scene in the cold open is a great use for example, especially since it directly connects to Mr. Wednesday. But randomly placing a disconnected scene with a minor character seems like they just put it in because it’s such an iconic book chapter, while not necessarily needed for the show.
5. Book Spoilers Ahead!Continued below
Speaking of the cold open, I loved putting that as the first scene of the show. Depicting the escalating things the vikings need to do to please Odin pretty much foreshadows the whole story and really cements just how ruthless Mr. Wednesday will become. I also like that the first time we see Wednesday he is in the middle of hustling the airline employee. These pieces set up two crucial aspects of Wednesday’s character and give you a great sense of how Odin can work, very quickly.