When it was originally on: 2017-present
Original network: Starz
Where you can stream it now: Starz or Amazon w/Starz extension
Had I seen it before: No.
What IMDb says: A recently released ex-convict named Shadow meets a mysterious man who calls himself “Wednesday” and who knows more than he first seems to about Shadow’s life and past.
Why I picked it: I like to include premium cable shows that aren’t HBO, and American Gods is one of the more buzz-y one of those at the moment. There’s also something intriguing about American Gods because I’m fairly confident it has fantasy/sci-fi/supernatural elements of some kind and yet I’m still not entirely sure what the show is about. It seems like the kind of high concept thing that the networks would either be too scared to do, or would be unable to execute properly, which is part of what makes premium cable so much fun.
What I liked: I love that I have a lot of trouble figuring this show out. When you’re on your 91st pilot of the project, it’s easy to start saying “oh, this reminds me of that show” or “oh, I get it, it’s kinda like if show A meets show B.” American Gods was a breath of fresh in air in that I’m still not exactly sure what they’re going for and there’s no other show I can compare it to. It’s a world all to itself. The confusion here is a good confusion that fuels my desire for more episodes, rather than a confusion that prevents me from getting invested in the show. It’s one of the rare cases where I can say “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show like this.”
Possibly the greatest thing American Gods does in this pilot is that it doesn’t try too hard to explain itself. So many writers would take a premise like this one and go out of their way to say “here’s how this world works” but there’s a confidence to the storytelling here. They’re not afraid to leave us in the dark. They understand that developing a character or maybe even two is going to go way further than developing more abstract concepts of why this world isn’t what it initially seems.
The reason why American Gods can get away with this is because it already has enough interesting stuff happening outside of its high concept. Shadow has just been released from prison only to found out that his wife died while having an affair. That in and of itself could be enough to carry a whole pilot. Watching Shadow pick up the pieces after all that could still make for compelling television even if it was the only thing happening. And so, American Gods doesn’t have to say “hey! Check out our weird crazy people who may or may not have magical powers and also maybe there’s some kind of weird war between them?” The fact that the part of the story I do understand is so interesting helps me give a pass to all the parts of the story I don’t understand.
Wednesday also presents just the right air of mystery. Is he good? Is he bad? Is he simply a man, or is there more to him than that? Ian McShane sell this character as someone sleazy who isn’t necessarily evil, but also just sleazy enough that I wouldn’t be surprised to learn he’s evil later. Shadow also has the right amount of skepticism towards him as well. We don’t lose any respect for Shadow because he ends up working for Wednesday.
What I didn’t like: Shadow seems nice enough, but he still feels like that annoying pilot-y thing where “here’s why you should pity the protagonist” is equated with “here’s why you should like the protagonist.”
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Most definitely. I have no clue what’s happening and no way of predicting what might happen next. It’s thrilling.