American Gods, TV Thread


#1

Starz premiered their adaptation of American Gods last night!

What does everybody think of it so far? Both on its own and as an adaptation. Please use spoiler blur for any discussion of events from the novel, for anyone who hasn’t read it.

Book Discussion:

[spoiler]It seems like they may be changing the pacing a little, moving things around since the first episode ended with Shadow Moon and Tech Boy meeting. I think this could be a good thing, but I’m curious what y’all think.

I also wonder how close to the book it will be, in the end. First episode was very faithful, but I won’t be surprised if that changes. Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal certainly took a lot of liberties.[/spoiler]


#2

I was in the middle of typing an effort post about the show when I saw you posted this, so I’ll just toss my thoughts here. I hated the first episode with almost every fiber of my being, but I am open to the idea that the things I disliked about it will tie together in later episodes and will give it a few weeks to impress me.

Going to lead with the fact that I haven’t read the novel and also haven’t watched Hannibal outside of a few episodes, so I’m largely unfamiliar with the source material and the showrunner outside of reputation and hearsay.

First episode spoilers:

[spoiler]I knew I was in for a wild ride from the opening sequence, which establishes America as a place where gods walk among us, and guns for shock value by having a fight sequence where a dismembered arm flies through the air. It’s almost comedic, but it’s played seriously.

The rest of the show follows Shadow Moon, the protagonist, who is let out of jail after his wife is fridged while sucking his best friend’s dick. He meets up with Mr. Wednesday, who offers him a position as a bodyguard after going on a Sorkin-esque monologue about the mechanics of flight, attributing Bernoulli’s principle to Newton. Ian McShane plays Wednesday with a lightness that suggests he’s the only one aware of how campy the material is. It works.

There’s a cut in the middle to Bilquis, a beautiful woman who takes a schlub way under her league on a date. What follows is an extremely pornographic sex scene that ends with her screaming “Worship me!” and slappig him, before he…proceeds to worship her, and she eats him with her vagina. Bryan Fuller says this is a sexually empowered woman, but I got the impression that this is a survival mechanism and, aesthetic aside, I don’t think being forced to have sex to survive is empowering. I’m open to be swayed on this one.

The whole thing is very dream-like. Nothing feels totally real, conversations are based more on notions and ideas that want to be conveyed than moving a plot forward. Mad Sweeney (played by an unrecognizable Porn Stache from Orange is the New Black) fights for no discernible reason. I think that this can potentially work, but this is a premise that needed to establish the plot a little more solidly at first blush, and it’s perfectly content to let its watchers constantly ask “Wait, what?” This is okay when a woman eats a man with her vagina post-coitus, but doesn’t really work when the questions are based on plot and motivation.

The episode ends with Shadow meeting Technical Boy, who after asking what Wednesday is up to and failing, proceeds to order his henchmen to kill Shadow. They beat the shit out of him and then…lynch him. In case it’s unclear, Shadow is a black man, and this is entirely meant to be provocative. I don’t think the show earns this moment. While there is foreshadowing (a white supremacist in jail holds a noose, and Shadow sees one during a dream sequence), the show doesn’t address Shadow’s race in a meaningful way, and it feels like the aesthetic of lynching is being appropriated to provoke a response sans meaning.

A response sans meaning describes the whole experience, in a way. Characters pontificate but don’t convey their motivation. Scenes which are intended to be shocking end up feeling unearned because the show is entirely uninterested in establishing its characters. The end result is vastly below the sum of its parts. I’m going to keep watching, because I’m open to the possibility that I’m wildly wrong and the show ties together its aspirations in a meaningful way. But as of right now, I’m unimpressed.[/spoiler]


#3

I saw Neil speak a few weeks ago, and he talked a lot about the adaption/the process of making it a TV show.

He said he encouraged them to take it their own story, to move things around and make it something that fit the medium. He told a story about having one of his first comics adapted to a play and it being the worst thing in the world because it was word for word and the pacing made no sense in that medium. He’s also really excited they are exploring characters deeper than he could in the book.

Spoilers? for upcoming episodes:

He said Episode 4 was his favorite of the whole show, as it focuses on Shadow’s wife in ways that he could never have written, and gave him a story about the character he didn’t know was there.


#4

huh! that’s all super interesting! It’s really cool to me to read the reactions of someone who isn’t already familiar with the book. I haven’t seen the first ep yet, but I wonder how much the series is going to end up trading on the existing goodwill that fans of the book will have coming in. I know Brian considers his main audience people who haven’t read the book, though, so if it does it it will probably be unintentional.

I would say the beginning of the book has a somewhat similar feeling to it though—very dreamlike and abstracted. Although the lynching isn’t in the book at all so I can’t comment on that. (1st ep spoilers)


#5

Somebody said that you needed to be open to just not questioning shit and holding on for the ride, which I’m potentially down for. I’m giving it more of a shot because I think the ending of the episode just left a very foul taste in my mouth and there’s something there, even if I don’t think it’s working yet.


#6

This is all very valid criticism. I definitely did not feel good about the lynching scene, which I don’t remember specifically happening in the book, but it’s been a few years since I read it.

Without actually spoiling possible plot, as that would be shitty and I’m not sure what the show will change anyway, one thing to keep in mind though is that many of the characters in the show are supernatural beings that subsist differently from regular people, and that plays into a lot of their actions. However strange they may seem.

Also remember that Wednesday is a grifter above all else. Just something to keep in mind.


#7

Good advice for the show and in life…


#8

okay but could we not with the subtle spoilers thing though. I don’t think wednesday being a grifter has even been mentioned in the show at all yet—it certainly hadn’t really been established in the book up to this point. (book anticipation spoilers)


#9

It was definitely touched on in the first episode. I wouldn’t have mentioned it otherwise.


#10

This show has so many boners. Like an amazing amount of boners.

Also, Wednesday is introduced as a grifter and basically every single scene he’s in in the pilot has him grifting someone. Shadow straight up calls him a con artist in their first conversation. The fact that he’s a grifter is not a secret. (Unless he tricks you into thinking that it is …)


#11

A lot of things you are saying here are cleared up later in the book, mainly by an in-story explanation, a plot twist, or by themes that are not as pronounced in the first episode as they will be. I am not trying to say that this makes you criticism invalid, on the contrary - it is much easier to put nagging thoughts on hold as you are reading a book where you are not forced to put it down for a week every fifty pages or so, and if the pilot of a TV show doesn’t stand on its legs that means the switch in mediums was not as successful as it could have been.

Where we absolutely 100% meet is the lynching scene, I don’t think the show fully earned that moment. I am guessing it was a deliberate change from the book to address Shadow’s race early on, as the book plays with reader expectations when describing him. The colour of his skin is mentioned maybe once in the whole book (and it is a long book), he is only really described as a big and muscular figure, most people who meet him remark “my, you’re a big one”, and that’s that. At the tender age of fifteen I was so inattentive as a reader that I didn’t even realise Shadow was black, and I know I’m not the only one like that. This is a neat narrative trick that sadly gets lost in translation to film, and my guess is this was the way they chose to handle this particular problem of the adaptation.

I hope you stick with the show, and find that the problems you listed were indeed handled later on :slight_smile:


#12

In the book, I think his race is supposed to be a little bit more ambiguous than just African American — many characters think he’s cherokee, there are parts of the book where he seemingly passes as white. In that regard I think Ricky Whittle is kind of perfect for it: put in the right situation, and squinting the right way, you could imagine his racial background as just about anything.

All of it is meant to fold into the idea that Shadow kind of isn’t all there as a character. He’s a (sorry) shadow of a person, and he (and his backstory) do not become defined until he makes choices to define them. In a very real sense he does not become black (or white or anything) until he becomes more defined as a character (something you can’t really do on TV, as you say). Which is why it’s notable that the very last thing that happens on the very last page of the Monarch of the Glen epilogue novella is him shedding the “Shadow” nickname for his real legal name which is (seriously, this is a for real big spoiler) (REALLY BIG SPOILER) (they won’t reveal this on the show for at least four seasons) Baldur.


#13

I just want to chip and say it’s the most Bryan Fuller thing I’ve ever watched. I have hazy memories of reading the book as a teen, so I am really just in it for the love of my number one favourite TV visual Boy - Mr Fuller.

It had me cackling at all the audacious gore and visuals, and it feels like he’s finally been unchained to do whatever the heck he wants.

The opening titles are a lurid fever dream work of art that I want a million posters of.


#14

Bryan Fuller’s lush and surreal visuals plus much tighter pacing make American Gods into something I want to watch versus the book which was a horrific, muddled slog, I felt.

I am really glad that they didn’t pull the punch on the Bilquis worship sex scene and threw it right into the first episode, as I think it sets a really amazing tone for the work itself. And somehow they managed to pull it off while also not fucking up with the censors, so Fuller and crew are absolutely the right people for this job.

I agreed that the lynching scene didn’t feel tonally or narratively appropriate. Especially since we already knew that Shadow has to deal with racism and white supremacy. I don’t remember it being in the book so it sort of felt shocky in the pilot. It could be foreshadowing (much like his visions) for the eventual scene where he is tied to the world tree?


#15

That was my take on the lynching scene, especially because he has a vision of the World Tree with a noose in his dreams in the first episode. At least that’s what I thought it was? The later happening at least has some sort of greater mythological context though. The lynching scene doesn’t feel like it needed to be there, at least as far as the first episode is concerned. But maybe the show will some how retroactively earn that scene. Only time will tell.


#16

Ha ha one of my biggest fears when the show started was not that they would change the purposeful laconic pace of the book (they would have to), but that there would be a bunch of critics saying that they had “fixed” the book by removing it. :smiley:

(Not that that’s what I’m saying you’re doing here)


#17

Man, this show is just nailing this story. Czernobog and the Zorya sisters are great. Anansi was great. Media was great. Everything is great.


#18

I think we will be talking about Orlando Jones’s opening speech in episode 2 for years. That was a burning hot divergence from the book in a really interesting way. The book version of Mr. Nancy was always more of a Brock Peters type. Orlando Jones’s take seems way more 2017.


#19

One thing I haven’t seen touched on yet, and it really shined in the second episode, is just how good Ricky Whittle is doing as Shadow. He really brought a charm and charisma to that role that I just didn’t see much of in the books. Shadow really felt more like reader-surrogate, and was never allowed to be as well-liked as Mr. Wednesday, but the TV show really extracted a version of Shadow that is likeable. This version of Shadow just feels infinitely more enjoyable.


#20

He’s infinitely more an actual character … which is going to be weird later on when his lack of character definition becomes a plot point.

Whittle is great though. All the more surprising because he was completely bland on The 100.