Coming from a world where book elitists (I admit it, I’m one of them) are constantly being disappointed by very subpar or unfaithful adaptations, (I’m looking at you Game of Thrones,) I’m very excited for an adaptation of a book that promises to be great without trying to alter the script. I’ll admit I had my doubts when I hear that one my favorite novels, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, was going to become a Starz show. After seeing what happened with adaptations that spanned over several book, what hope could a single book have? This is of course before I realized the success that adaptations on Starz like The White Queen had. Yet as more was revealed, the more faith began to creep back to me. First, of course, that Bryan Fuller was taking control, and with how well received (by me of course) Hannibal was, at least the series would be in good hands.
Once the cast and trailers started trickling down, well that was getting me even more convinced. When it comes to adaptations for me, events and moments can be played around with or altered…as long as they retain the significance. The two most important details an adaptation from book to screen should never mess with is world building or, even more so, character development. Nothing rustles my jimmies more than when a character is so outlandishly different from their source material that they’re a completely different person and hold no ties to their superior originals (ahem, Stannis). This is why my hopes began to rise with the trailers of American Gods. I mean, everyone could be happy with Ian McShane being casted as Wednesday, the man is legendary.
Rather than Meg’s review of the show, which will be episode-by-episode, I’ll be focusing more on what makes the adaptation faithful to the masterpiece of novel, but also as she made such a good point of, it is impossible to stay entirely on that one subject. So of course, as readers and watchers of both show and novel, our opinions might agree or disagree, but I urge you as fans to form your own opinions. With that in mind, since my pieces will follow the book, I am writing this assuming you have read the book, so…spoilers will be heavy.
The Grand Cast
Obviously, I spent lots of words letting you know that character portrayal is very important to me so I thought it would be the best place to start. Ricky Whittle, slightly unknown, but surely not without talent, was an interesting choice as the story’s main character. Novel readers will know Shadow Moon to be quiet, but not without words to say. I won’t say he lives in his mind, but he spends a great deal of his time in there. Then again, who wouldn’t; you’re getting out of prison to learn that your wife passed away, she was having an affair with your best friend, and that affair directly led to both their deaths, and you’re suddenly getting pulled into a world you never thought existed, let alone you would ever be involved with. I mean, Gods? I would get lost in my head too if I had so much going on in there.
Ricky Whittle did an excellent job as portraying Shadow, even if it was a little different than I expected. The lines were all there, literally almost word for word with novel. The biggest difference was the he’s a lot more talkative. Like I said before, it’s not like Shadow is constantly the silent and brooding type, but he is much quieter in the books than in the show. I’m actually pretty okay with that, it doesn’t give too much change to his character, if anything it vocalizes what’s going on in his mind, something that’s always hard to translate from book to screen.
From the coin tricks to his extremely calm demeanor, everything about Whittles performance was the Shadow I knew from the books, yet one pivotal moment for me was how two interacting actors managed to transform one really important moment in the book’s introduction into something far more significant. In the novel, during the funeral, you’ll remember the iconic yet depraved moment when Audrey (Robbie’s wife) spits at Laura’s dead body. They chose to omit this from the show, though it seems a minor detail, it completely changes a viewer’s first perception of Audrey. In the first episode, this was probably one of my few criticisms but the aftermath made up for it. Post funeral in the novels we don’t really see much more of Audrey, other than the ride she offers Shadow, which is followed by some angry words. I think the show’s post funeral gave us much more of human side of Audrey, the way she throws herself at Shadow, is so completely desperate, utterly without shame that we can’t help but sympathize. The scene is uncomfortable and strange, if that was what the writers were going for, then spot on.
Ricky Whittle was a pleasant surprise cast, but the real trophy of the show, for this first episode anyway, goes to Ian McShane as Wednesday. To be fair, no one could really expect that such a great actor would do a terrible job, so it was a given that he would portray the enigmatic Norse God so well. In the novel, Wednesday is manipulative and loquacious, using his glib tongue to get what he wants. This is exactly the first impression we get of him, the airport and the way he deals with the Airline worker is just manipulation at its best. For the most part, the airport scene is pretty identical to the novel, minus the fact that the show excludes the second airplane ride and the fact that Shadow does end up getting annoyed with Wednesday’s offer.
Throughout the episode we constantly gifted with the superb dialogue and persuasive powers of Ian McShane’s Wednesday as the front and centre attraction, but they are definitely not the only two great portrayals this pilot had to offer. Two words, Mad. Sweeney. While Whittle and McShane added their own little things to their characters, Pablo Schreiber played Mad Sweeney completely identical to the novel counterpart. From his casual drunkenness to the coin tricks and his overall tough guy attitude, it was like he was jumping off the page. It’ll be sad that he had such a limited role in the novels, but with how the show is going to increase the roles of minor characters, who knows how much we’ll see of him. But that’s a point for another part of this article. Also, that bar fight scene was my favorite.
The Great Chapters
Character development is the most important thing to me in an adaptation, but playing out scenes the right way is also important. Now I’ve mentioned a few already in context to how the character was portrayed, but some scenes need to faithful on more than a just a character level. One of the most talked about scenes was the Bilquis scene. A lot has spoken about how the Gods are portrayed to begin with, but you have to take that with a grain of salt, considering they’ve had to adapt to modern life. The book itself isn’t too dated but the writers decided to modernize it anyway, similarly to A&E’s Bates Motel. In the novel, Bilquis is the Ethiopian Queen of Sheba, posing as a sex worker; while in the show she’s instead portrayed as a lonely woman looking for a date on a dating site. The scene after, however, is almost to a T like the book version, both include a pretty raunchy sex scene that go from Bilquis asking for her lover to worship her, to then being consumed by her vagina. I was actually curious to see how this scene would play out when I found she was casted, but what’s even more intriguing is to see where they will take character next, considering that was her only part in the book.
Another scene that stuck out pretty hard was the opening. Titled Coming to America, it actually appears much later in the book and plays out much differently. In the show it’s an over the top gore fest involving a group of Vikings who discovered America way before Leif Erikson. The plot points are essentially similar; the Vikings do all sorts of crazy rituals to get Odin to turn his gaze to them so they could summon the wind to take them away from this miserable land. The show however, goes all out with this to the point where they even fight one another in a ridiculously bloody and fun battle. Even a severed arm gets a kill of its own! Sam Raimi style.
One of the only scenes that stuck out to me as– I don’t want to say it was bad but rather different than I was expecting– was Shadow’s abduction. After Shadow declines his ride from Audrey he is soon approached by a limo and taken captive by the henchman of an entity known as the Technical Boy and his faceless Spooks. In the show, rather than being picked up, he’s transported to a digital world in the form of a limo by some kind of mask he finds in a field. Now that part wasn’t too unforgivable, but it’s the way that the Technical Boy looked that threw me off. In the books he’s very obese, exhibiting a lot of physical and mental characteristics of someone who is very entitled and dabbles to the excess. In the show he’s more young, comely, and gives off a really hipster vibe. He’s also very patient, contrary to his book version. Afterwards instead of just allowing Shadow to leave after warning him not to fuck with him, the show counterpart has him strung up and beat by a few of his Spooks. A lot can be said about the way he was attacked, very similar to a lynching which can give a mental image of racism but I can’t really be sure if that was intentional or not.
One last point, which is not completely significant as of yet, is Shadows dream states. The dream sequence in the show is nearly identical to the book. From the image of Yggradsil with the noose hanging from its branches to the Bison with flaming eyes telling Shadow to believe, it’s obvious the show is trying to give all the subtle hints to who Wednesday is. Like I mentioned at the start, spoilers, so don’t read on if you don’t want any. All the signs throughout the show try to give the clues to Wednesday being Odin, the All-father. The missing eye, the day of the week he chooses his name (Wednesday in Norse mythos is Odin’s day) and, of course, the noose on the branch signifying the sacrifice he made for knowledge. I’ll admit the show does expect you to do a lot of guessing work yourself and this is especially disconcerting for those who haven’t read the book. Yet, would you expect no less?
This was an excellent start to a very promising adaptation. It was just like the book in all the great ways and different in other respects. The pacing threw off a little considering the first episode did end up covering a good chunk of the book, but considering they’re going to add a lot of their own original material, including giving more elaborate roles to minor God characters like Bilquis and The Djinn(according to the trailer anyway) that is not surprising. This was one of the best book to show adaptations I’ve seen yet and I really hope it stays that way. Next week as we get further into the story I’ll hopefully have a lot more to talk about, characters wise and if you you’ve read this but not the book. I strongly urge you to pick it up and catch up before next weeks episode!