Saturday, July 22, 2017

20/20: #6 American Gods season 1

2017, Bryan Fuller (Amazon Prime)

Since David literally *just* tackled it, I figured I'd weigh in on American Gods too.  It sort of fits the connective thread of comic books, superheroes and stranger things that have been the norm for 20/20 so far.

Like David, I too am a fan of Neil Gaiman...well, more a lapsed fans since Gaiman has been writing primarily prose and not comics any longer.  I don't read a lot of prose.  I get bored reading prose, my mind gets distracted and the experience of reading puts me to sleep.  It's not just Gaiman, but pretty much anyone.  On top of that, there's little reward for me reading prose, since I tend to forget the bulk of what I read, to the point that my brain has devoted absolutely zero space for American Gods.  I have no recollection of anything about the novel.  This is my status quo.  Strange, then, that my wife, a voracious reader with amazing recall of the printed word, also has next to no recollection of American Gods (or its follow up Anansi Boys).  Adding David to that pile, you have three people who should be the target audience for that book not connecting with it to any great degree.  There's no ill will towards it, but no fondness either.  That bodes ill for adapting it to another in, what's the point.

Bryan Fuller...Bryan Fuller is the point.  Fuller, death-obsessed Fuller, darkly comedic Fuller comes at American Gods with a vision.  Having just come out of three remarkable seasons of Hannibal severely underappreciated by the masses, and unceremoniously cancelled by NBC (though cudos for them for daring to even run it for three seasons, I suppose), he carries over much of the same crew and directorial talent, so there's a vibrant darkness to American Gods which it shares with Hannibal.  It takes about three episodes for American Gods to shake its Hannibal-ness and feel like its own thing, it's heavy shadows with vibrant colours, dark and grainy hard-to-watch scenes contrasted with bright and welcoming ones.  All the while that underbelly of sick, wry humour pulsating.  It's got its shocks, but its got a sense of humour about it too.  Some Fuller staples from as far back as Dead Like Me just persist.

American Gods' first season is surprisingly only 8 episodes long, and is all set-up.  While this could prove infuriating, it's so brilliantly put together it's hard to damn it for any of the choices it makes.  Old god Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) is readying for war against the new, and with his new associate, ex-con and widower Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) , they travel across America attempting to recruit other old, forgotten gods.  Meanwhile, Shadow's dead wife has returned from the grave (Emily Browning is a slow-build tour-de-force) and the new gods seem all too keen to have Shadow on their side.

There's a definite heightened reality to this show, one which is set in the opening moments depicting Vikings landing on a hostile terrain. Their leader faces a barrage of arrows, in fact, every single arrow hits him and only him.  In that instant, this brutally comic moment, one realizes this show is striving for something different.  This is a show afterall which features a montage of one god absorbing her worshipers into her during intercourse (and, as David noted, one of the most gorgeous, affecting, sensual gay sex moments in mainstream media ever... as you might expect having sex with a genie to be)

The casting is impeccable.  Those mentioned above, along with Orlando Jones, Cloris Leachman, Pablo Schreiber, Omid Abtahi, Peter Stormare, Gillian Anderson, Crispin Glover, Demore Barnes, Yetide Badaki, Kristin Chenowith and more putting in some infallible performances.  It's rare to see this level of talent buy into the conceit of a genre program so fully.  The show seems to encourage, not just accommodate scenery chewing.  The gods, afterall, should be grandiose, larger than life.

The first season doesn't end like a typical season finale... at 8 episodes it just feels like a break.  I have a feeling Fuller can tell this story in 3 8-episode seasons, 4 at most. But what we get is its own thing.  It's challenging, it's entertaining, it's glorious and memorable in a way the book wasn't. 

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