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American Gods: Season 1 [Blu-ray]
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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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First, I genuinely appreciate Fuller and his many television achievements, Hannibal being one of my all-time favorite television programs. Unfortunately, he took many liberties with American Gods, becoming a bit overexcited at the opportunity to put this wonderful world on display and play around in it a little, which left him unfocused and not functioning up to his typically high story-telling standards. As a result, the first season covers very little of the actual story of the book, which was meant to be fully told by the end of the second season, at least "meant to be" when they set out to make this series. Over time, as production grew longer and longer, the goal was shifted and the big finale got farther and farther away. And so, please understand that, while the actors are incredible and the story is incredible (and fully complete, in the book) and the budget was obscene, what you get here is a series that feels like it was made on a shoestring with very little story on paper before production began.
With more and more additional, often random, little side plots and vignettes, special little touches here and there, political commentary and the ever expanding need that Fuller, and his production partner Green, had to express their real-world feelings and ideas, most particularly about political issues, the plot of American Gods got farther and farther away. The first season of the series was less a marathon and more the first four hours of a sleep study in which the doctor offers you ever increasing amounts of mild sedation to help you fall asleep, long after having realized that you never will. I will give a couple of examples that you can skip without missing anything, in case anyone needs more information on this issue.
The lead characters wander, it seems, and spend more and more time not getting anywhere, because of the endless additions of outside and largely irrelevant vignettes that function, less as segues, increasingly as independent stories about characters you will likely never care about, drag and distract. But, it gets worse. Those people are often people of color who are represented as less intelligent than average human beings generally are, which was, needless to say, uncomfortable to view. The reaction of a dear friend to the very early and very detailed story of slaves choosing to commit suicide rather than simply take over a ship and escape, because they just couldn't think of that, after several minutes of thinking about what to do, left him refusing to watch one minute more of the series, having enjoyed the book. Of course, for any who don't know, slaves who escaped on ships tended to rebel quickly and did take ships, because they were not stupid as this series opted to portray them but, rather, were intelligent and fully functioning human beings.
As another example, Fuller insisted on the inclusion of a story, which he added just for the purpose of exploring the plight of a specific minority group in the Middle East, via a graphic and extended sex scene, which he had filmed multiple times to ensure positional accuracy, as it were, as though the issue had not been explored endlessly on other programs, most recently on Starz, in their retelling of the Captain Flint storyline. What was worse, the many minutes of this story culminated in a scene that was gratuitous and, again, uncomfortable. For people like me, who are open minded and not offended by sexuality or story-lines of this type, this story was unnecessary, distracting and boring. For people in my family who did not expect to be watching something from the unrated film collection, behind the red velvet curtain at our local video store in the 1980s, it was a deal-breaker. One exclaimed that nothing in the unrated version of Boogie Nights could compare to the first minute of that scene and promptly stormed off. Thus, I finished the season alone, out of my entire group of friends and family, in a room away from the bigger, better television.
Here end the examples.
The series continued to tell many such politically/socially inspired but also somewhat degrading stories, often playing as though the showrunners found the original book boring and felt the need to add more and more side stories and vignettes in order to play out their political and social commentary for the audience, in absence of a solid plot or interesting core characters. The problem? The original book is filled with wonderful characters and an amazing plot, all of which are dwarfed by the endless parade of random that comprises this first season.
Fuller and Green, the showrunners from season one, were replaced, but, due to the direction they set in the first season, the network has struggled to find a way to get the show back on track and has let slip that they might not even be able to finish the story of this single volume book, get this, until the end of a fourth season. The atmosphere of their effort was brilliant and beautiful. Their selection of actors was, as it always is, wonderful. Their ideas for how to adapt the story, prior to all of the additions they made, was also wonderful. For whatever reason, they chose to add endless political and social commentary, rendered redundant by the current climate and the endless parade of series that have covered the same ground over the last decade, with ever diminishing returns. The result is a predictable series with too many asides and not enough of what we came to see: Wednesday and Shadow.
As I said before, I have great professional respect and affection for, most particularly, Mr. Fuller. However, he may have suffered a loss or had cancer or developed a mental illness or any of a number of things that happen to people in middle age as a tragic consequence of getting older. Whatever happened, and I hope he is well, he has lost focus and become a bit obsessed with political issues that he used to find less interesting than a great story. For whatever reason, he lost his way and failed miserably in the telling of what is truly an exciting, genuinely interesting, intriguing, atmospheric gem of a packed story that would have been well worth the time and money had it concluded in two seasons, as promised. At this rate, by the time they finish the story, we won't remember where it began. It is too slow, too unfocused, too packed with vignettes and random moments and ideas and threads and the leads are lost amid the extras.
I can't recommend this program unless you are desperate for something that has the mood of a Fuller program and can't stomach another viewing of Hannibal, which I can't imagine ever happening to anyone, but, conceivably, could. I wish you luck if you go for this one. It takes a special level of dedication and focus and, again, I don't know anyone who was able to sit through it, other than me, because I felt I had to, out of fan-loyalty to that beautiful book and to beautiful Fuller who, with luck, will find himself again.
Random Advice For Anyone On The Fence But Willing To Try:
If you are going to watch this, and you feel you must, I recommend fast forwarding through the first ten or so minutes of the episodes that showcase characters you don't recognize, particularly in long-ago situations, like Vikings and guys writing in journals and slaves on a slave ship and ladies in the kitchen with food on the stove and a pet cat, and so on and so forth. If you are not interested in viewing the pornographic elements, they are fairly easy to spot and do last quite a long time , so you might want to give a nice fast forward through those as well.
I can't properly review this show without providing major spoilers, but suffice it to say, its a tale of a man caught up in a war of old gods vs new, and how his perception of the world comes crashing down and reshaped in the face of impossibility. Casting in this is hit and miss, but as a hardcore fan of the books, who I imagine playing the main characters is very specific and likely would never have happened (one character I can only envision seen being played by Scatman Crothers, RIP). Despite this, Showtime stepped up their A-game casting team, and though I may not agree with some choices, every actor is fantastic in their role and is captivating.
Sadly this first season is short, and it ends at a rather strange point in the story, nowhere where I thought they would compared to the book, but since its been said they plan at least 2 more seasons that explores previously unpublished material by Neil Gaimen, its worth the wait I'm sure. All in all, check this out. Its a fantastic series based on a seminal work. Give it a watch.
I bought this for Ian McShane (who did not deliver), Gillian Anderson (who did - phenomenally so), and Crispin Glover (who does not show up until episode 4 and I couldn't stand this drivel enough to get to that episode - even with fast forwarding).
I am not sure what the books were like but this show was horrible - in terms of plot line, characterization and substance. Visually, I must say they did that quite well...
the acting was pretty good considering one the main character is just walking around saying what the hell is going on.
in the end that's the problem with the show, I watched the whole season and at any given time I'm sitting there frustrated because I am baffled as to what is occurring. they spend whole episodes, or large chunks of them anyway, going into the backstory for one of the supporting characters. but that backstory was more interesting than the main plot.
lastly I just want to say that they need to stop letting art majors make movies. some of the scenes in this movie were so dark (i mean shadows not immoral) that i couldn't see anything but that dramatic half visible face coming out of the shadows that's become so popular in movies. other scenes have fountains of blood exploding out of people like throwing whole cans of paint at a portrait.
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Ian McShane great in his role - enigmatic and cranky, with a great presence. Excellent casting throughout.
Gillian Anderson in her strangely under-publicised multiple role, I didn't even recognise her as Lucy and as Bowie (it's called Acting, darling), and as Marilyn, where her performance ticked boxes where I didn't even know I had boxes..
It's a long time since I read the book, so this has been a great watch for me, not comparing it with the book, and enjoying anew all the bits I'd forgotten about. Roll on season two - the book is ALL worth putting on screen, however many seasons that may run to, the more the merrier (merry in a dark, Gothic bloody kind of a sense).
Without spoiling the plot, the most frustrating change they made was relentlessly beating Shadow with the idiot stick - perhaps to try and make him more of an audience surrogate.
There's more than enough good stuff in there to make it worth a watch, but you might come out annoyed that it doesn't stick the landing.
... my only grumble is that there should've been more episodes, or leave the last episode at a point where it's on more of an upswing, instead of a sorta flat note, but the casting was great, and it's worth watching through at least a second time, so now it's just waiting for Season 2 to hurry up and arrive!!
The casting director should be given an award. Simple as that, many names and faces I didn’t know, but if I had, they would have been my first choices to fill the roles.
The story is a deeply complex one, which requires your whole-hearted attention. This is not a venture for those with the attention span of fruit fly, if that is you, you won’t enjoy it much. Also, I would advise getting a brief volume of Nordic sagas to familiarise yourself with some of the characters and to get a better grasp of the underlying mythology. It really will make it more enjoyable when you understand the references.
All the other mythology is pretty much new to me, but it is easy to follow, if you do a little post viewing research (Google was invented for just this purpose).
If you can’t follow it straight away, don’t give up, as it weaves a rich tapestry that needs full viewing (or reading) to fully enjoy it.
4 out of 5, dropped one point as they left me hanging after series 2 and I don’t do the patience thing very well.
I can see why people love and also why they hate it .
Personally i'm not sure if I liked it or not ?
It flits around too much and is a bit pretentious . The bits with Ian McShane are the best but they are erratic . No doubt the book was better and easier to comprehend ?
An instant cult series though .