TV Review: ‘American Gods’ Is a Stylistic, Poppy Romp

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Whenever you have Neil GaimanBryan Fuller or David Slade producing content, the content is going to be undeniably stylistic. All three have a strong eye for violence, storytelling and the absurd. Fuller and Slade’s previous collaboration, “Hannibal,” may have been the most stylistic, director-driven show since “Breaking Bad.” Gaiman’s always had a penchant for the grotesque and otherworldly. Combining the three brings together Fuller and Slade’s strong visual flair with Gaiman’s weird storytelling ability. The first episode of “American Gods” is a showcase for how the show could quickly become one of TV’s must-watch offerings.

The episode begins with a voice-over about the first settlers of America and the Gods they encountered. It is a violent sequence that pulls off the visual style of “300” with the violence of “Braveheart” in its bloodiest moments. It’s a prologue that works to establish the world we’re entering and does a strong job telegraphing where the series may head. We are quickly transported to a prison and meet our protagonist, Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle). He’s been released from prison early after his wife (Emily Browning) is killed, and he is struggling to understand his place in the world.

While in the airport on his way home, he meets an odd man played by the always amazing Ian McShane. While we don’t learn his name at first, Mr. Wednesday seems to be slightly more knowledgeable about the world than Shadow. He offers Shadow a job and then takes him to his wife’s funeral. Once there, Shadow discovers his wife may not have been as loyal as he thought she was. He’s also beaten by a mysterious stranger with an inclination for technology. Before he can be killed (in an extremely violent allusion to a lynching), he is mysteriously saved in an equally violent montage.

The narrative and screenplay are extremely fun and biting. The show goes out of its way to offer extremely graphic depictions of events at times. It’s fun to hear the dialogue coming from McShane and Pablo Schreiber, who are both absolutely perfect for this show. McShane is channeling Al Swearengen and is an absolute delight in this role. Schreiber (“Orange is the New Black“) is also having fun in the role, and when he fights Whittle, the two have strong chemistry. The actors on the series seem to have a good time, and Whittle is very well cast as Shadow. It should be a good ride and with so many other actors and actresses yet to come, the series will be excellent genre fare.

The show takes heavy visual cues from “Hannibal” and almost feels like that show and AMC’s “Preacher” had a secret lovechild. The dialogue is biting and graphic, and the visuals are even more so. There are some extremely gory kills in this first episode, including entire bodies exploding. One man in the introduction even stabs himself in the eye with a hot knife. While we’re not experiencing fever dream hallucinations like “Hannibal,” this show could turn that way. With a longer leash at Starz, expect the violent romp to continue.

Overall, this series will likely be a niche show in the public mind. However, with the talent involved, it has potential to be one of the best shows on TV. The ratings will almost never reach the level it will deserve, but the style that oozes from this show makes it one of the more interesting new shows of 2017. With Slade and Fuller running the show, expect the violence to only get more intense from here. Gaiman serving as an executive producer should mean a weird and joyous narrative. With Tarantino-like violence and dialogue, but Slade’s visual pallet, expect the show to continue to blossom as the series progresses.

What do you think? Is “American Gods” the next “Walking Dead”? Or is it closer to the next “Hannibal”? Let us know in the comments below and on the Awards Circuit Message Boards!

“American Gods” airs on Starz on Sunday nights.

GRADE: (★★★★)