American Gods season 1
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When Shadow Moon is released from prison, he meets the mysterious Mr. Wednesday and a storm begins to brew. Little does Shadow know, this storm will change the course of his entire life. Left adrift by the recent, tragic death of his wife, and suddenly hired as Mr. Wednesday's bodyguard, Shadow finds himself in the center of a world that he struggles to understand. It's a hidden world where magic is real, where the Old Gods fear both irrelevance and the growing power of the New Gods. Mr. Wednesday seeks to build a coalition of Old Gods to defend their existence in this new America, and reclaim some of the influence that they've lost. As Shadow travels across the country with Mr. Wednesday, he struggles to accept this new reality, and his place in it.
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But sometimes they hang on in a more... tangible way. That idea is at the heart of "American Gods Season 1," based on the classic urban fantasy by the incomparable Neil Gaiman and produced by Bryan Fuller. Simply put, this series is a sort of road trip across the United States, populated by a strange, oddball cast of diminished gods and other supernatural creatures -- including the new gods of media and technology.
A few days before he's due to be released from prison, Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) receives the news that his unfaithful wife Laura (Emily Browning) has been killed in a car crash. On the flight home, he encounters Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) who offers him a job as a bodyguard. After some trepidation, Shadow accepts the offer. But he soon discovers that this is no ordinary job, because Mr. Wednesday is one of the old gods who were once worshiped in other lands.
And Wednesday is preparing for a war, recruiting old gods for the ultimate battle against the new ones that have risen over time, such as Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) and Media (Gillian Anderson). Shadow finds himself on a journey across the American continent, meeting gods that he never dreamed of -- the hammer-swinging Czernobog, gun-god Vulcan, the spring goddess Easter, and the spider-god Anansi. But Shadow soon discovers that Wednesday may not be what he seems -- and he has plans for Shadow in the coming war...
It would be hard to come up with a more perfect combination of talents than "American Gods Season 1." It has the mythological focus and ideas of Neil Gaiman's novel, and the rich visuals and blood-spattered storytelling of Bryan Fuller's past television shows. When you add in actors like Ian McShane, Orlando Jones, Kristen Chenoweth and Gillian Anderson, it becomes almost compulsively watchable.
The main storyline is a pretty simple one, but it's wrapped in layers of subplots -- some are about the main characters like Mad Sweeney and the undead Laura. Others are tales of the old gods and how they have interacted with humanity: Anansi telling a boatload of slaves what their future holds, a man falling in love with a taxi-driving jinn, an old woman being judged by Anubis, Vikings struggling to win Odin's favor, and so on. They add a richness and depth to the main story by making it feel timeless and universal.
And the writing is clever and well-developed, examining the nature of belief ("Oh, so that's how the world works! It's either real or it's fantasy?") even as it presents a coldly technological form of "worship" ("The screen is the altar... Time and attention, better than lamb's blood"). It's not what you'd call deep theological stuff, but it's a good psychological examination of what the human urge to worship can be channeled into.
Flaws? The weird fixation on Jesus, which feels very removed from the rest of the series.
McShane completely owns the series as Wednesday, a jaded old god who engages in battles of wits with Shadow even as he subtly overshadows his new-world enemies -- and he's backed by a formidable cast of talented actors, particularly Anderson as Media (who appears in different pop-culture forms), Chenoweth, Corbin Bernsen, Yetide Badaki, Pablo Schrieber, Emily Browning and many more. The weakest link is, oddly, Whittle as Shadow Moon -- he's not bad, but he doesn't have that electric spark that some of the others have.
Despite that, "American Gods Season 1" is a weird, wild, bloody and magical experience -- not for the faint of heart, but certainly for those who like their urban fantasy to be strange. Just try not to worship it.
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