Friday, November 17, 2017
TV and Media

Review: Divine, bloody 'American Gods' has us ready to worship this series

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Get ready to worship. Hot and heavenly American Gods on Starz is about to convert us all.

If a holy war between deities isn't thrilling enough, the all-star cast of Ian McShane (Deadwood), Ricky Whittle (The 100), Emily Browning (Sucker Punch) and Orlando Jones (Sleepy Hollow) will have you swooning.

The series adapts the novel from Neil Gaiman, exploring the brewing war between old and new gods, vying for the worship of millions of modern humans.

Whittle is Shadow Moon (not a god), an ex-con released early from prison after the death of his wife, Laura (Browning).

During his journey home, Shadow meets Mr. Wednesday (McShane), an older con man who hires Shadow as an assistant. Shadow soon realizes the jobs Mr. Wednesday has him do are more of an otherworldly nature. Divine, even.

Mr. Wednesday is a humanized Odin, the Norse god of war, who aims to wage an epic holy one between the old gods and the new. He has lived long enough to see his followers forget him and turn to new gods of progress, media and technology.

Shadow's journey with Mr. Wednesday evolves into a road trip through the heart of Americana, gathering old gods for the coming battle. They run into the least-stereotypical leprechaun (Pablo Schreiber, Orange Is the New Black); goddesses guarding from terrors in the stars; the original goddess of springtime (Kristin Chenoweth); and a bloody brute that's an ancient Slavic god.

Sprinkled between scenes of their cross-country trek are flashbacks of the old gods' journeys to America. The premiere begins with Odin's arrival amid a crew of beached Vikings slaughtering one another. Later, Jones debuts as the swaggering trickster god Anansi, who incites a fiery riot aboard a slave ship in 1697.

And though we don't see the Queen of Sheba's arrival in America, her iteration Bilquis (Yetide Badaki) is the sultry goddess of love who literally consumes her conquests with her nether regions. You'll want to pour a glass of wine for the scene that will be one of the most talked about of the year.

Mr. Wednesday's travels with Shadow don't go unnoticed. Shadow is bombarded by Media (Gillian Anderson), a new goddess who lives off binge-watchers, pop culture gluttons and social media hounds. The screen is her altar, and she has plenty of believers.

She tries to win Shadow over with sweet persuasion, but Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) takes a bloodier route when he kidnaps Shadow into his pixelated stretch limo. Technical Boy is the embodiment of our culture's obsession with technology. He's a punk who vapes and can think and respond just as fast as the highest-speed internet. His cronies are modernized droogs a la A Clockwork Orange.

On the surface, American Gods is a saturated trippy dreamscape that explores both sides of a brewing battle between deities. It's anyone's guess who has the upper hand.

What's most striking about the show is the cinematography. The series hails from Bryan Fuller (Hannibal) and Michael Green (Logan), veterans at creating beautiful gore.

The show is baptized in blood, starting with Vikings cleaving each other in half and a stunningly beautiful wall of the red stuff during the slaughter of Technical Boy's faceless bezoomny brats.

The rest of the series is blanketed in highly saturated color. The show moves across the wide-open landscape of middle America, zeroing in on road kill and rank, small-town motels, then onto Bilquis' red-drenched love palace and the hazy home of Slavic gods Czernobog (Peter Stormare) and the Zorya sisters (Cloris Leachman, Erika Kaar and Martha Kelly).

On a deeper level, the story represents society's complex notions of religion and culture, old gods clashing with the new just as traditional values and forms of belief conflict with modern norms.

Being converted to American Gods comes with plenty of blood and blasphemy, sex and symbolism, coin trick and chaos. It's an intriguing slow burn that hints of something grander and even bloodier yet to come.

Amen to that.

Contact Chelsea Tatham at ctatham@tampabay.com. Follow @chelseatatham.

     
 
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