“American Gods” was on my to-read list for many years and for some reason remained on that list until recently. Hearing that the book would be adapted for television (and living with the constant fear that I will regret watching something before reading the book), motivation kicked-in… and went away… and kicked-in again around the time the show aired. Having watched the first season of “American Gods”, I am glad I read Neil Gaiman’s novel first- apparently my fear is justified.
I’m not saying that Starz’s TV adaptation is bad or not worth watching, but Gaiman captures a tone in the book that is not reproduced on screen. The majority of the book reads through Shadow’s- the main character’s- perspective. His view of the world is gritty and dry. While attempted in the show, I do not think Shadow, a down on his luck, shell of a man, was captured here.
The other benefit of reading the book first is the appreciation of the scope of Gaiman’s work. The plot is complex with modern day characters interacting with known mythological figures, like Odin and Easter, and modern gods that Gaiman invented. It is also well researched, with chapters as asides, giving background to the gods.
The show is presented similar to the book in that the main arc of the story follows Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle). After being released from a three year prison sentence and learning of his wife, Laura’s (Emily Browning), sudden death, Shadow meets the mysterious Mr. Wednesday, who offers him a job as his driver and henchman. Following Laura’s funeral, Shadow begins driving Wednesday across the United States for reasons that are slowly revealed. Each episode also as asides- or flashbacks- to give context and history to the ancient gods. These flashbacks were handled well in the series, possibly better than in the book, in that it is more clear how they tie to the main narrative of the story. In each episode there is a flashback with a god and that god appears in the episode.
Another aspect of the show that has played out well is the relationship between Laura and Mad Sweeney, a leprechaun. Laura is brought back to life inadvertently by Shadow after he drops a lucky coin on her grave, which Mad Sweeney gave him. When Mad Sweeney realizes he gave Shadow the wrong coin, he finds Laura. Since Sweeney cannot simply take the coin from Laura, who wants to continue living off said coin, they come to an arrangement that sends the two of them on their own road trip as they track down Shadow. Phew- anyway, the tension and development between the two kept me interested in the show at times when the main narrative began to lag. Kudos to the writers and showrunners for not killing Mad Sweeney off, which happened early in the book.
And then there’s the amazing Gillian Anderson who plays Media, one of the new gods- though, really, she plays about four characters in one. Media takes the form of pop culture icons, including David Bowie, Lucille Ball, and Marilyn Monroe. I can’t think of another actor who could impersonate these people, while bringing a bit of weirdness, which suits the show.
Overall I enjoyed “American Gods” and I’m looking forward to how things develop in season two, which should continue to explore the relationships between Mad Sweeney and Laura, Shadow and Laura, and Shadow and Mr. Wednesday. I expect we will meet some new gods as well that didn’t make it into this first season.