One of the first books I read this year was American Gods. It was kind of an accident, I finished the paperback I was reading on a long train journey and just picked the first thing on my Kindle, which happened to be American Gods. At the time, I hadn’t yet heard that they were making a TV series.
When I did find out I was immediately interested in watching it. I thought that it could definitely fit the medium of TV, probably better than it would fit a movie, and there was a lot of stuff that I thought might be a challenge to portray in a satisfying way. I was curious about how they’d do it. Having now watched the series I can confirm that they made it work.
First off, the casting. Ricky Whittle is entirely perfect for the role of Shadow. Same goes for Pablo Schreiber as is Mad Sweeny. Odin is played by Ian McShane and, well, let’s just say that in the first episode I hate him as Odin. By the middle of the second episode I knew I had been a bit daft and as the series wore on I was a total convert. How appropriate. Emily Browning is a great Laura Moon, Yetide Badaki is a great Bilquis, Gillian Anderson is a great Media and Crispin Glover is an entirely terrifying Mr World. I don’t know if they just interviewed every actor alive in order to find the very person for every role or if they just got lucky but damn it works. I could just spend this entire post listing every member of the cast and say how much I agree with the choice but that could be kind of dull. Let’s just say that I do.
One character I’m still not totally happy with is Technical Boy. Not because Bruce Langley doesn’t work but because the actual character has been updated. I guess because our idea of a computer nerd has changed since the novel was written in 2001. He’s a lot more of a slick, hipsterish, Silicon Valley kind of nerd than a living-in-his parents basement playing WoW kind of nerd. It makes sense and everything, I’m just not quite convinced I like it. Even so, once Technical Boy had shown up in a few episodes, though, I got used to the idea.
Meanwhile, the visual choices and the musical score are beautiful, delightful and entirely in keeping with the novel. You’re constantly reminded by the setting that not everything is as it seems and you’re given the chance to learn this at the same pace as Shadow does, although possibly slightly faster than occurs in the book. All of this really helped to build the suspense and made me click on to the next episode more readily than I might have otherwise. That said, it can be a little heavy going and not all of the subject matter is exactly what you’d call cheerful.
If you’re familiar with the book, you’ll remember that there were occasional chapters that didn’t really contribute to the main storyline but helped to build the world. These told the histories of individual gods that might, or might not, show up in the main narrative. Honestly, I kind of expected the TV series to just skip these but I was delighted that it didn’t. We got a few background stories and I felt they were all handled really well. I actually think you could make a TV series entirely with stories like this with one story per episode, the whole collection only loosely connected, kind of like a collection of short stories. I’d watch it.
I have one complaint and one complaint only about this series. I would not have chosen the same place to stop. Obviously, we aren’t all the way through the events in the book – I reckon we’re about a third to half-way through, so perhaps that’s why the chose to end there, but it left me more frustrated than anything else. Not that that will stop me from picking it back up once season 2 arrives.