Season 1, Episode 1: “The Bone Orchard:
Starring: Ricky Whittle, Ian McShane, Emily Browning, Yetide Badaki, Pablo Schreiber, Bruce Langley, Jonathan Tucker, Demore Barnes

SUMMARY:
Shadow Moon sees the last of his cell-block days as he nears the end of his shortened prison sentence, driven to return to his wife, Laura Moon. He has a premonition that something has gone wrong, and receives news that warps his world inside out. Upon release, he finds himself serving Mr. Wednesday, who is assembling a “who’s who” of old mythical personalities to fight against the powerful forces of the modern world.

‘Rigged games are the easiest ones to beat.’ – Mr. Wednesday

With plenty of creative license, we first witness how a group of Vikings land in the New World and quickly have their dreams of conquering thwarted. Wishing to return to their homeland, they call upon Odin, the Norse war god (among his many other specialities). Demonstrating just how much it takes to please a god, with escalating levels of extremity and violence, they eventually get their wish.

In our modern day, with prison no longer holding him, Shadow feels one thing after another slip from under his control. His previous life is gone as he finds out his wife Laura is dead, and he has no job waiting for him at home. After several rounds of persuasion, or rather manipulation, from Mr. Wednesday, he leaves his future up to a coin toss as any sensible man in a difficult situation does. The fateful coin toss sees Shadow join Mr. Wednesday on a journey wrought with more strange meetings. Other figures also participate in the mystical reality Shadow finds himself a part of, such as the seductress Bilquis, Shadow’s suspicious cell-mate Low Key Lyesmith, the drunkenly overly-enthusiastic Mad Sweeny, and the irritating yet chilling Technical Boy.

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Visceral, dark shots convey a tone of gritty realism which completely juxtaposes what kind of tale that is unraveling. It has no need for small, symbolic nuances because the whole thing is built on symbolism and traditional imagery woven in with the mundane and the everyday. The result is a very immersive telling of what it would be like if we had myths in our day.

This is not a happy story and our best hope for a virtuous, redeemable character is a man who was due to serve six years in prison for battery and aggravated assault. Yikes. Many scenes are very graphic, whether it involves sex or violent fighting (you know, the good stuff), and easily rival those of Game of Thrones. The stunt work and special effects involved build a visual narrative that is not just convincing and believable; it is provoking, challenging and occasionally stomach-churning. These deities are desperately fighting for their existence and command a terrifying presence in doing so. The music is usually tailored to the tone of the shot, extrapolating feelings like dread or emptiness. Sometimes, it even appropriately contrasts the gruesomeness or seriousness being portrayed.

A particular instance of music framing a moment is during Shadow’s and Mr. Wednesday’s “joyful” conversation at the bar when the upbeat ‘Iko Iko’ by The Dixie Cups chimes from the jukebox in the background; one of many times when the adaptation is faithful to the source material. Much of the dialogue is also very close to or directly lifted from the novel’s pages. There is enough new material in the show, however, that breathes a new life into Gaiman’s already incredible construction. If the rest of the season is like Episode One, the show and the book will serve as companions that inform each other and enrich the experience of the story.

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The casting for these characters is completely spot-on, leaving nothing more to want for. Ian McShane exceeded expectations as Mr. Wednesday, adding a levity that makes him not seem to take himself too seriously but still makes you listen to every word he says. Another impressive performance by Yetide Badaki as Bilquis sees her in a sex scene that could have been the intro to the world’s weirdest sex tape (beat that Paris Hilton!), but it was hypnotic, compelling and overwhelming. She is the Queen of Sheba and definitely raises the bar for confidence in the bedroom. The only possible drawback may be for those who have not read the book may find it a little confusing and hard to settle into the series. Will it ease as we see more of these characters and how they interact with every new episode? Time will tell.

VERDICT
It is a satisfying introduction and a triumphant premiere to a saga that promises to only get crazier. It’s like watching a play that is not limited by the physical constraints of a theatre or a stage and has the whole world and the heavens as props at its disposal. It is a big ask to form a space that feels adequately immense for personas of such magnitude and repute, and the beginning of American Gods has successfully done so.

RATING: 9 out of 10

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