I’m giving 2:1 odds on the perverse Lucille Ball scene.
The trailer for Starz’s upcoming American Gods, based off the acclaimed Neil Gaiman fantasy novel of the same name, is located below. The story follows recently released from prison protagonist Shadow Moon as he traverses between various American towns and landmarks – of the respected and much less so variety – with his cohort deity employer Mr. Wednesday. Many things happen, as stories are wont to do. If you wish to maintain your American Gods spoiler virginity, avert your innocent eyes from the rest of this article. If you have forgone all vows of spoiler chastity and you just want to straight go to town all over American Gods speculation, by all means feed that carnal desire with me.
From the trailer we can surmise that the show thus far will at least carry through the early storylines surrounding Shadow’s recruitment by Mr. Wednesday up at least until his abduction and torture by the Black Hats. There’s no trailer evidence of any of the happenings with Shadow’s stint at the funeral home in Cairo, Illinois, nor with his more permanent residence at Lakeside. This goes along with comments made by Gaiman about structuring his novel for conventional television arcs over episodic seasons: season 1 roughly equates to the first third of the novel.
Most of what’s seen is beautifully shot. The colors pop. The scenes where it’s clearly meant to be nighttime are as crisp and vivid as you’d ever want – that moonlight is BRIGHT, don’t stare right into it. The show looks like it will be as high-def as you’d ever need, and everything looks perfectly placed and clean and overall staged up real pretty. This is unfortunate because the novel is not that. Shadow, Mr. Wednesday, and other god friends meet in seedy places, roadside attraction used-to-be hot spots, dingy and antiquated hotels and apartments. The settings are supposed to reflect the forgotten gods themselves, just hazy memories on the peripheral.
Even Shadow’s own musings and recollections are fleeting. Many of his revelations and epiphanies of this new world filled with mythological magic come from his maybe real/maybe not fever dreams. Nothing is straightforward, and Shadow is constantly conflicted on whether to believe everything he’s seeing or not. Just ask the buffalo man. Such a fantasy evokes surreal, not hyperreal. Maybe that’s always the problem when moving an image from the wispy imagination to the 4K-ness of modern television. The contrast is unnerving.
Gaiman’s prose in American Gods isn’t flowery. He’s succinct. Something is never like something else in his story; something is something and that’s it. There’s no room for metaphor in his writing when his whole story is metaphor incarnate. The very notion of deictic entities being born into existence based on the abstract thought and idea of feelings and prayer are what’s real in his world. He’s matter-of-fact, his characters are matter-of-fact. That’s an endearing feature of American Gods: Shadow accepts nearly all the fanciful things that happen to him like they’re just as normal as water being wet, which has the very real effect of having the reader accept the same. Can the show pull off such a wonderful illusion?
And what of the side stories in American Gods? If the first season follows the first third of the book, we should at least get the prostitute god that eats her victims whole, right? (Not like eats them normally with, you know, like a mouth, but like eats them with her, umm, you know.) Tonal and narrative shifts are second nature in books, but how will the show tackle such asides that really have no bearing on Shadow’s journey in the structured TV environment? If I missed an obvious clue about this in the trailer, please let me know.
The cast is extremely promising. It’s a who’s who of great character actors and niche performers. Ian McShane has already taken over my preconceived notions of what Wednesday’s character looks and sounds like. I’ll go back and read certain parts of American Gods, and I hear McShane’s voice and I see McShane’s face. That’s a powerful indicator of potency when the imagination is trumped by reality.
Straz’s American Gods showrunners feature the already famous Bryan Fuller, of Dead Like Me and Hannibal fame, and the soon-to-be-equally-if-not-more-so famous Michael Green, the writer for the next Alien and Blade Runner movies, otherwise known as cha-ching. At one time, American Gods was going to be HBO’s next big thing, but all of that fell through. Starz doesn’t really have any previous hits (or at least, none that I can name off the top of my head), so this may do for them what Oz did for HBO. The novel is beloved and will have plenty of fans lining up (sitting down?) to watch this show. Please don’t screw it up.