American Gods debuted on STARZ on April 30, but if you were lucky enough to have attended the SXSW Conference in Austin, you could have seen it back in March with hundreds of Neil Gaiman fans.
If you’re not a Neil Gaiman fan, you may not have heard of his book American Gods. But, if you are a film fan, it’s hard to have avoided other Gaiman works, including Stardust, Coraline, and Neverwhere. Also, the characters in the current Lucifer TV series are inspired by a Gaiman story.
The SXSW Conference debuted the pilot in the “Vimeo Theater”. The theater is actually one of the larger rooms in the Austin Convention Center converted to a theater for the conference. As a SXSW veteran, I was surprised by the fact that as the crowd entered the room, SXSW volunteers were scurrying about, setting up additional folding chairs in the aisles to accommodate the enthusiastic fans. (The fire marshal must have been at lunch.)
The presentation began with Gaiman’s face on the huge screen and cheers from the audience as he introduced the TV series based on his 2001 novel. American Gods is an adult fantasy about the battle in America between the “old gods”, such as Odin, that came with immigrants from their homelands and the new gods, such as media, wealth, and being an internet star.
STARZ then shared the first episode of American Gods and followed it up with a question and answer session with the director, writers, and stars of show.
The story’s main character, Shadow Moon, is played by Ricky Whittle (Hollyoaks, The 100). Whittle commented on what he thought was special about the project. “This is an immigration story,” he said. “We’re all immigrants. And it’s easy to relate to Shadow. He is a broken empty vessel after the loss he suffers in the first episode. He has to get his mojo back. Then, he’s awoken by Mr. Wednesday and goes on a crazy emotional roller-coaster.”
He continued, “When showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green asked me to do it, it seemed like the perfect vehicle for a TV show. Nothing is ever what it seems, ever.”
Whittle asked the audience how many people had read the book. Over half of the people in attendance raised their hands.
In the first episode, Vikings land in North America. They try to get their old god to help them. The results are extreme, but realistic. They end up leaving their Old World God in America, setting up the premise of the story.
The story then zooms to the present and Shadow Moon. Moon is in prison, but about to be released. He finds out that he will be released early, but, not for a good reason.
Upon his release things do not go well for him and he meets Mr. Wednesday, played by Ian McShane (Deadwood, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides), who offers him a job. What he doesn’t realize is that he has entered a world where magic is real, and Mr. Wednesday is building a coalition of Old Gods to defend their existence and reclaim the influence and worshipers they’ve lost.
Neil Gaiman’s writing creates memorable characters. American Gods is no exception and the series has attracted notable and talented performers. If it fulfills its promise it should be a talent and celebrity magnet.
Moon’s wife is played by Emily Browning (Sucker Punch, A Series of Unfortunate Events). Other regulars include Pablo Schreiber, Bruce Langley, Yetide Badaki, Cloris Leachman, Gillian Anderson, Krisin Chenoweth, Corbin Bernsen, and Orlando Jones.
(Next paragraph contains a spoiler.)
A scary and enticing character introduced in the first episode is Bilquis, the Queen of Sheba and a goddess of love, played by Yetide Badaki (Sequestered). She is depressed because she is no longer worshipped as she was in the past. While having sex with a man, just as he is climaxing, she sucks his entire body into her vagina. Did I mention it was an adult fantasy?
The participation of director David Slade should insure the spookiness of upcoming episodes and its success with younger viewers. His work includes the films Hard Candy, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, and vampire flick 30 Days of Night. Slade has also directed several television pilots including Hannibal and an episode of Breaking Bad.
Photos by author unless otherwise noted