Culture & Criticism Since 2003
In The Guardian, the reviewer who was trying to describe Neil Gaiman’s American Gods was a bit flummoxed. “What genre is this?” he wanted to know.
Neil Gaiman is his own genre. It is fantasy. It is horror. It is literary fiction. A mystery. History. Anthropology. And something much larger than the sum of its parts.
American Gods is regarded by many as being Gaiman’s finest novel. I’m not one of them, but it’s still an extraordinary piece of writing. It won the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Lotus award. Per Wikipedia, it also won SFX Magazine and Bram Stoker Awards, all for Best Novel, and likewise received nominations for the 2001 BSFA Award, as well as the 2002 World Fantasy, International Horror Guild and Mythopoeic, and British Fantasy awards. It also won the 2003 Geffen Award.
I was so unimpressed with it I only read it three times over the next 12 years. Thus, I was intrigued and a bit excited when I discovered there was going to be a television adaptation.
The central character in the series is Shadow Moon, played by Ricky Whittle of The 100 and Hollyoaks. Shadow is a small- time con artist who gets a bereavement leave several days ahead of his scheduled prison release following a six year rap for assault and battery. His cellmate is Low Key Lyesmith, who happens to be a Norse god of chaos and malice.
At loose ends, trying to find his way home so he can bury his wife, he is approached by an odd character – a sleazy yet talented personage who, when Shadow wants to know his name, asks what day it is and says, “My day. OK, just call me Mister Wednesday.”
Wednesday is played by Ian McShane, in what promises to be his best role since Deadwood. The supporting cast stands puissant, with Emily Browning, Pablo Schreiber, Yetide Badaki, Bruce Langley, Crispin Glover, Orlando Jones, Gillian Anderson, Kristin Chenoweth, Jonathan Tucker, Cloris Leachman, Peter Stormare, Chris Obi, Demore Barnes, Corbin Bernsen, and Mousa Kraish all taking turns sharing a moment in the spotlight.
Those who have read the book will have a good idea of what to expect. The first episode adheres very closely to the plotline. For the rest of you:
If you make it past the first seven and a half minutes, you’ll probably do fine. The start makes Game of Thrones look like Romper Room in a seemingly unrelated vignette of the first, unrecorded Viking landing in the New World.
Later in the episode, a meek, likable salesman, pudgy and inoffensive, gets eaten by a vagina. He quite enjoys the experience, even though he fails to survive it.
Gaiman, who plays a major role in writing and directing the series, is the undisputed master of The Old Tale: Dark and mysterious and bloody, amid Gods that can be mad or evil, amid leprechauns that are seven feet tall, in a place where Ian McShane is (sort of) one of the good guys.
The first episode (directed by David Slade, written by Bryan Fuller and Michael Green), was amazing. I have high expectations for the rest.
Zepp Jamieson was born in Ottawa, Ontario, and spent his formative years living in various parts of Canada, the UK, South Africa and Australia before finally moving to the United States, where he has lived for over 40 years. Aside from writing, his interests include hiking, raising dogs and cats, and making computers jump through hoops. His wife of 25 years edits his copy, and bravely attempts to make him sound coherent. Reach him through The Electric Review.