One thing you can count on in Starz’s new supernatural drama American Gods is to expect the unexpected. There’s a particular scene that is incredibly provocative. It’s horrific as much as it’s disturbingly erotic and works on several levels.
American Gods’ premiere uses a number of strategies to hook the viewer. The interplay between Ian McShane’s Mr. Wednesday and Ricky Whittle’s Shadow Moon is engaging right off the bat. Mr. Wednesday is the con artist you know you shouldn’t trust but do. Shadow is the ex-convict with integrity whose faith and loyalty is being put to the test.
In the bigger picture, there is a battle brewing between the old idols and beliefs once worshiped versus the trappings of modern life: new media, technology and globalization.
The structure of the premiere is straightforward. Shadow is released a few days early from prison to go to his wife’s funeral. Along the way he meets Mr. Wednesday and takes a job as his personal bodyguard.
Where it can get a little confusing, between the cryptic dream sequences, mythological characters and magical sleight of hand, is what’s exactly going on? The premiere walks a tight line between revealing just enough to pull the audience into the mystery of how all these elements at play are going to fit together.
Even if the premiere leaves you a bit confused, American Gods’ visual presentation is striking. First off, the opening credit sequence has a great entrancing vibe and cool song to match. The violence in the cold open is brutally depicted; apparently exaggerated blood splattering can be an art. There’s also symbolic imagery, particularly in the haunting dream sequences, which should gradually reveal its significance over the eight episode inaugural season.
It’s about time Ricky Whittle gets a star making lead role. As solid as he was in The 100, he’s going to have the opportunity to show more nuance and depth in American Gods. Whittle so far hits all the right notes as the tough, no-nonsense Shadow. Ian McShane is the perfect fit for Mr. Wednesday. There’s some of Al Swearengen, his character on HBO’s Deadwood, in Mr. Wednesday; someone who’s thinking several steps ahead and can be conniving with a sincere face.
If the premiere is any indication, American Gods is not your run of the mill supernatural drama. Premieres are generally heavy on exposition, in contrast American Gods doesn’t explain everything upfront like a good mystery should do. It’s not at all messy or poorly constructed. On the contrary, the high production values, solid performances and intriguing set up make for a potentially great series. There’s a lot going on and American Gods is a television series you might need to put your trust in that everything will come together.