Martin Carr reviews the first episode of American Gods…
American Gods has a petulant swagger, hunkering self-assurance and arrogance backed up by a conceited faith in its source material. From the opening frame to a jaw dropping closing salvo ‘The Bone Orchard’ delivers on visual panache, audacious invention, hard R rated sexual congress and violence at once poetic yet savagely close and personal. There are so many tricks up the collective sleeves of Messrs Bryan Fuller and company it will make your head spin. Starting from left field and coming out of the gate like Vikings, American Gods takes the plethora of interweaving storylines which make up Neil Gaiman’s Magnus Opus and bombards you relentlessly.
Dreamscapes of breathing branches, bison with eyes of flame and sex scenes which feel orgasmic, sultry, dirty and visually destroy anything Thrones ever tried, are just a few of the things in store. Beyond the picture palette, sense of confidence and originality which oozes like sweat from the pores, Gods has such a rich tapestry of limitless character as to be almost beyond belief.
Ricky Whittle best known from Hollyoaks is a revelation as Shadow Moon our singular link to what passes as normal in this world. A stoic, measured presence in all situations with a pent-up physicality used in brief yet effective flashes of violence. Released into a world after years of incarceration Moon only wishes to travel from point A to point B without incident, something under normal circumstances which should be simple. Cinematic moments, high production values and a budget capable of delivering a series capable of filling five seasons await the intrepid.
What they have done here is introduce characters carefully, stylishly and with no scrimping on effects. Pablo Schreiber’s Mad Sweeney, Ian McShane’s Wednesday and Yetide Badaki’s Bilquis, all get moments to shine in ways you will never forget. Creating character amongst the sweat, tears, darts and hard liquor. There are moments reminiscent of Zack Snyder but with more subtlety and less needless FX, while ghoulish fantasy, pitch black humour and VR tech open things out visually catching you off guard.
McShane is mischievously sordid, world-weary and sporting a venomous underbelly beneath the aging trickster façade. Schreiber paints a comedic picture as the ticking time bomb which is Mad Sweeney, while Badaki’s introduction is the stuff of nightmares. For fans of the novel this opener promises all the poetic literary invention Gaiman brings to his page transplanted book, binding and sinker. Spellbinding, boldly honest and narratively challenging in ways which may yet prove to redefine television, ‘The Bone Orchard’ is not just a great first episode but may prove to be ‘the’ greatest first ever. To paraphrase Bennett Miller’s Moneyball; ‘the first ones through the wall always get bloody’. Judging it on those terms Gaiman’s American Gods is claret soaked and cut to ribbons.