BINGE-R #41: American Gods + April's Best Shows
AMERICAN GODS S1
Streaming Service: Amazon Prime Video
Availability: Eight episodes now streaming, new one added each Monday
American Gods – which turns out to be an extremely accurate title – is spectacle television: long scenes, reality looped into strange dimensions, and portentous precedents are all part of Amazon’s new drama. The first episode, the only one available to preview, has a pliant watchability. It can be many things, even if it’s slow to establish anything but the mythic mysteries that will underpin the series. The prologue, where in the year 813 a group of Vikings reach the New World and find nothing but horrid misery, is a bloody precursor to the show’s vision of an America secretly in thrall to its uncaring deities.
Out of jail and widowed by the sudden death of his wife, Laura (Emily Browning), the formidable Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) is shocked enough to succumb to the entreaties of Mr Wednesday (Deadwood’s Ian McShane), a charismatic huckster seeking a bodyguard for his cross-country travels. A con artist and more who has loaded life’s deck, Wednesday adds to the distorting forces that snare Shadow and free the narrative. “Who are you?” Shadow asks a combative acquaintance of his new employer. “I’m a leprechaun,” comes the reply from the surprisingly tall Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber), whose pot of gold comes with a violent streak.
The gods draw their power from what people worship, creating an ancient established order and their rival newcomers, such as Technical Boy (Bruce Langley), the incarnation of coding who abducts Shadow via virtual reality. Adapted from Neil Gaiman’s 2001 novel, the series doesn’t appear interested in matters of faith so much as the gods’ machinations. This is good news for Ian McShane, who gives every exchange – and expletive – ruminative possibilities. “That is an outstandingly improbable name,” Wednesday tells Shadow, and the first hour adheres to that line; “worship me,” commands Bilquis (Yetide Bataki) to a new lover, and in the throes of sex she ecstatically ingests the willing man.
American Gods was created by Michael Green (Heroes) and Bryan Fuller (Hannibal – see below), and it continues the latter’s use of striking imagery and elaborate production design to expand the story. Shadow, like the audience, steps over a line into a neon netherworld where the everyday answers to a different logic, and there’s a willingness to explore this with prickly, suggestive monologues. Will it get somewhere? That remains to be seen. But at the beginning it manages to be like Wednesday’s description of the mead he gives Shadow to drink: “sweeter, smoother, stranger.”
>> Bonus Binge: If you want the full Deadwood experience, with Ian McShane in his element as the aptly named Al Swearengen, Stan has all three seasons of David Milch’s pungent western about a frontier mining town’s harsh evolution.
APRIL’S BEST SHOWS
Strong, distinct creative voices – both in terms of storytelling and a visual aesthetic – were particularly prominent in the best streaming shows I watched in April. The top three are all worth your time – or at least investigation – and there’s value in the second tier as well. Right now the idea of the long form series is up for grabs, and the variety is fascinating.
1 – Dear White People S1 (Netflix): Set on a college campus, this is “a caustic, diligent satire about racial realities in contemporary America… the show is smart, self-aware, and eventually soulful.” [review here]
2 – The Young Pope S1 (SBS on Demand): In Paolo Sorrentino’s series, Jude Law plays a newly elected American pontiff, and it “has a weird, wonderful gravity, as if the immensity of [his] elevation has freed him, and the storylines, from rational bounds.” [review here]
3 – Hannibal S1 + S2 + S3 (Stan): I’m a very late but impressed convert to this psychological crime thriller, which serves as an elaborate prequel to The Silence of the Lambs and “is a show you immerse yourself in”. [review here]
>> Want BINGE-R sent to your inbox? Click here for the twice weekly e-mail.
>> Looking for a previous review? Check the BINGE-R Index.