It seems fitting that an Englishman wrote the quintessential American mythology. Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is an epic fantasy that blends the Old World and the New, a story that weaves together elements of fantasy, folklore and the American spirit into a mesmerizing tapestry of human emotion and psychology.
The award-winning novel was released in 2001 but is being adapted by producer Bryan Fuller and Gaiman himself for television. The new series is slated to premiere April 2017 on Starz.
American Gods centers on Shadow Moon (played by The 100’s Ricky Wittle), an ex-con serving time. A day before his release, a tragedy grants him a sympathetic early out. Shadow’s sudden loss prompts him to take a job offer from a mysterious man named Mr. Wednesday. What follows is a sprawling adventure across America, where Shadow encounters Eastern European witches, Egyptian embalmers and a walking, talking corpse of someone he lost.
Mr. Wednesday, who will be played by Ian McShane, enlists Shadow to help him take America back from the New Gods, the entities and ideal we Americans have come to praise over more traditional beliefs.
Gaiman, a well-known and highly acclaimed writer, creates new tales of old gods and of the world’s newest superpower that seem as if Americans have been telling them for generations. His fantastical characters are gritty and realistic, seeming more like failed immigrants rather than dejected deities. The surreal plot and wacky backstories of the Old Gods could easily come across as juvenile or absurd, but Gaiman’s effortlessly classic writing gives his character’s journey a profound sense of importance.
Shadow is the grounded axis on which Gaiman’s bizarre world pivots. Most authors would turn Shadow into a brooding, boring foil for the enigmatic and charmingly devilish Mr. Wednesday, but Gaiman gives Shadow a complicated past and knack for deception. Wittle, who played a dark warrior on The CW’s dystopian series The 100, has the right look, but he’ll need to infuse a subtle sense of loss and bewilderment that Shadow carries with him throughout his strange journey.
The plot of the novel is like a better-written and cleverer season of Supernatural, which will translate well to television—especially at the satellite cable channel Starz. The mind behind the adaptation, Bryan Fuller, is the perfect fit to bring Gaiman’s dark and sensual world to life. His past shows, Hannibal and Pushing Daisies, are on two ends of a continuum in which American Gods will sit nicely in the middle. Hannibal was a dark show that had little moments of comedic respite and Pushing Daisies was more of a dark comedy with extremely depressing undertones. American Gods needs to blend all of those elements with a reverence reserved for classic literature and myth.
Wittle stood out on The 100 but on American Gods, actors of a different league will surround him rather than his CW coworkers. Ian McShane is playing Mr. Wednesday, Gillian Anderson is the New World God Media and Orange is the New Black favorite Pablo Schreiber is demented Celtic god Mad Sweeney. Schreiber is sure to be a fan-favorite playing Sweeney, a deranged leprechaun that challenges Shadow to a fist fight the first time they meet.
The exciting plot doesn’t seem rushed and is packed full of excellent dialogue and action, but the things to look forward to are the pockets of respite Gaiman inserted in the novel. Asides showcasing the gods’ immense and dwindling powers, backstories that trace the history of the country and psychedelic scenes that teach Shadow the fundamental truths of the civilization we live in and created.
Fans of Game of Thrones, Supernatural and Penny Dreadful should definitely give this show a chance. Gaiman’s incredible storytelling and Fuller’s ability to visually stun an audience will make for a compelling and gripping show.