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AMERICAN GODS Will Test Your Senses Like No Show Before (Review)

AMERICAN GODS Will Test Your Senses Like No Show Before (Review)

Please note: this review is spoiler-free for American Gods. Enjoy!

There’s a lot we don’t know about the world. For all the power and insight science has brought to our understanding of the physical world, there are many things outside its purview that we cannot explain. What we choose to believe ultimately says a lot about us. And the power of belief has proven its mettle against even the most hard-lined, facts-based arguments out there. I, for example, believe that, if you give it a shot, American Gods will be one of your favorite new series of the year, in all its wizened weirdery.

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American Gods is a twisty opus of a tale, weaving and wiggling its way through ideas of religion, life, death, belief, power, and what it means to be American. To tell you much more about its plot would rob you of the dark-and-twisty ride you about to embark upon. It is complicated, outrageous, unbelievable, and audacious. It’s brimming with excitement, fear, and skepticism—and it is very, very dense. Don’t expect this to be your new favorite series to fold laundry to: you’re going to have to pay attention if you want to have any sort of an idea of what’s going on over the course of its 8-episode first season on Starz. If you love a thematic challenge, this is the show for you.

On every level, the series’ should-be-confounding-beyond-comprehension puzzle pieces fit. There are flashbacks, side stories, and hidden agendas. There are gods and humans and some hybrids in between. And the running current underneath all of this is a war for the heart of America. Having the likes of Bryan Fuller (Hannibal, Pushing Daisies, Dead Like Me) and Michael Green (Logan, Heroes, Blade Runner 2049, Alien: Covenant) tackle the haunting literary mind of Neil Gaiman (The Sandman, Coraline, Neverwhere) certainly helps to streamline this: these guys know (and love) weird, and excel at bringing it to the screen in exciting and different ways. There is truly no other show on TV that looks and operates like American Gods does, and that’s a very, very good thing.

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Still, American Gods continues to up the visual and thematic game that other new series like Legion and Handmaid’s Tale have wrought on-screen this season. The show is a frenetic glitterbomb of atmosphere: its flotsam and jetsam more than mere eye candy, it’s a nod to the world wherein these old and new gods live. To juxtapose this, its pacing is tense and slow, purposefully confusing and downright tingle-inducing, further eschewing the dreamlike state the show will leave you in once its episodes are done. Consistently while watching the episodes, I found it was hard to shake a feeling akin to the confusing, sleepy haze of drug use.

These moments are especially visceral when employed to introduce its weirder characters. This is one of the most well-cast shows in recent memory. Every actor truly embodies their character. Ricky Whittle’s Shadow Moon is exactly what my mind envisioned the character to be, and Ian McShane’s Mr. Wednesday is as bombastic as you’d want him (his introduction to the series is a true highlight). Gillian Anderson and Yetide Badaki (as Media and Bilquis, respectively) command the screen whenever they’re on it, and Jonathan Tucker and Crispin Glover—as Low Key Lyesmith and Mr. World, respectively—menace and confound as much as they delight. Cloris Leachman, Peter Stormare, Omid Abtahi, Orlando Jones, Demore Barnes, Kristin Chenoweth, and even Dane freakin’ Cook are simply perfect in their parts, with Bruce Langley’s embodiment of the internet somehow a more punchable Technical Boy than I ever thought possible. (This is a compliment.)

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The breakout star of all the god and non-gods alike, though, is Pablo Schreiber’s Mad Sweeney. The expanded role of the series’ leprechaun is a masterclass in physical comedy and pure ego. A scene involving coin tricks will certainly need repeat viewing, and his chemistry with Shadow Moon and Mr. Wednesday is the stuff of TV legend.

And we’d be deeply remiss if we didn’t mention the expanded characterization of Laura Moon (Emily Browning), Shadow’s wife he left at home when he was sent to jail. Here, the already gargantuan story truly benefits from a bit of fleshing out. In the books, Laura and her machinations are highly unmoored and without any sort of reasoning that rang true. In the TV iteration of her tale, Laura Moon is considered more thoughtfully than on the page, and to that end, the show gains an even more incisive look into what drives all of us.

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Which is not to say the series is perfect: indeed, its weakest episode (of the four screened for journalists) is arguably the pilot, an oddly paced and overstuffed-in-weird-ways hour of TV that felt much longer given the sheer magnitude of its visualizations. I wanted to love it, but was ultimately frustrated (and I’ve read the book). Book fans will likely enjoy how fairly literal the first episode’s adaptation of the text is, but it may prove a hindrance to recruiting uninitiated viewers. The pilot is a feat of Fuller-ian excess—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing for those who’ve read the source material, but it does make for some at-times distracting imagery and play that may alienate the lay-viewer—this story is incredibly tough to synthesize, y’all. The pilot feels very Hannibal season 3 in tone and tenor, and if that’s not your bag (it wasn’t my favorite, though I am ride-or-die for Hannibal/Bryan Fuller), it may read as overdone. But for every moment of overdone-ness, there are at least 3 instances of stunning imagery and sweeping atmosphere perfection.

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And to anyone who feels dissuaded after the pilot to continue, I will simply say this: keep going. Stick with it. Episodes three and four are particular highlights in terms of storytelling strength, and—we promise—ultimately inform the understanding of just what in the heck happened in the episodes prior. Plus: it just gets fun. American Gods, like America, is still in its infancy in the grand scheme of things. It is wholly worth your worship this TV season. We don’t want to try and predict the future, but it’s sure to be one of the best of 2017.

American Gods premieres on Sunday, April 30th at 9 p.m. Are you looking forward to it? Let us know in the comments!

4 out of 5 burrito altars:

4-burritos

Images: Starz

Want more American Gods? Hear what the cast had to say at SXSW:

Alicia Lutes is the Managing Editor of Nerdist, creator of Fangirling, and frequent Twitter.com obsessive.

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