28 June 2017

REVIEW: American Gods

*I do NOT own any of these images*

I'd heard so much about the new show American Gods. Having followed Ricky Whittle's journey since his time in CW's The 100, I was so pleased to hear he landed a lead-role in Bryan Fuller and Michael Green's new creation.

We had finally finished binge-watching OITNB and it was time for something a little more out-of-this-world. That's definitely one way to describe it.

This post was originally intended to be a '1st impressions' post in which I would share my thoughts and opinions on the first couple of episodes. Of course by the time I got round to writing it I'd already watched up to episode 5 (no self-restraint what-so-ever): a good sign.

This will therefore be a general review and critique of the episodes 1-5 of American Gods, featuring very minor spoilers.

I haven't read the book this series (by Neil Gaiman) is based on therefore the review will not compare both art-forms, but will focus solely on the television series.

The first episode undoubtedly gives us a taste of what to expect: intriguing characters, suspense, strong violence, gore, Religious beliefs - and sex. But as the show progresses, one theme dominates all others: the Land of America. "The Land of the Free". The violent History. The genocide. The hopes and dreams of it's people, it's mixed Culture.
American Gods actively illustrates the most violent aspects of America whether that's the hundreds of years of slavery (and the institutionalized racism), the pro-gun culture, or an immigrants journey for a better life in the city of Where Dreams are Made Of: the show doesn't shy away from the dark reality and the experiences lived by those who make America what it is.

These factors are the foundation of the characters of the show: the American Gods. Beings created solely by the individual and collective actions and thoughts of the masses. That's what makes the show so compelling: what are the repercussions of that connection? What kind of being will such socio-political and cultural factors create?

The American Gods don't only represent old religious beliefs and human passions but also what is worshiped in our society today: such as technology, the TV/Movie star, the aura of the rich and famous.

This varied collection of old and new beliefs (well, Characters) is all cleverly spun into a interconnected web with the introduction of the show's lead: Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), a man who is released from prison a couple of days early after the news of his wife's death (Emily Browning). Upon his journey back home he meets Mr Wednesday (Ian McShane). a talkative (and secretive) man who offers him a job. Mr Wednesday is quickly proven to be more than just a man, a God with a mysterious mission who pulls Shadow Moon into a series of events which test Shadow mentally and physically, events which effect his personal life.

While the first 2 episodes successfully establish the world, episode 3 and 4 have a much slower pace. Not much happens, the story doesn't really move forward at all.
The episodes are, above all, character driven: a strong focus on the characters' backstories ensures a deeper understanding into their personalities and behavior, something that can rarely be achieved through the medium of film as the lack of time just doesn't allow it.
As the more character driven episodes progress you can begin to appreciate the true complexity of these characters and the actors who play them.

As episode 5 finishes, enough time has passed for us to wonder what the actual plot is but the episodes aren't 'boring'. With each episode we discover a new American God: the opening sequences often depicting the experiences of those who have witnessed and interacted with these higher beings, or how the Gods have played a part in the History of America. Some audiences might get to this point and think that not enough is happening, that we've come to a standstill: in my opinion it's an opportunity for the creators to further establish this magical world and the people who live in it. Again this boils down to personal preferences: if you're looking for non-stop action, this might not be your thing. It is perfect however for 'invested escapism' (is that a thing?).

Along with the introduction of such otherworldly characters, the use of special effects in American Gods is just enough to make you feel like you've wondered into a dream: like Hannibal with a touch of dark fantasy. Some dream like sequences completely warp reality in a way that you can't help but admire, and often in ways where acceptable reactions include 'wow' or 'what the actual f***'

This 'raw', dreamy and brutal aesthetic has definitely placed the show in the 'high television' category (think Penny Dreadful) contributing to this new wave of successful series crafted with a strong cinematic feel.

To sum it all up, season 1 of American Gods is very well made (I believe season 2 has been confirmed!) with good music, good visuals and suspense. The focus is predominantly on establishing characters and a magical world, the action kept to a minimum, with several stand-alone sequences which further contribute to the exploration of this fictional world, not forgetting of course the brilliant performances given by all.


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