DVD Review: American Gods (Lights, Camera, Action!)

By Drew Hurley 27.07.2017 1

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American Gods (UK Rating: 18)

Legendary scribe, Neil Gaiman, has been putting out some of the best stories on book shelves for a very, very long time. His comic masterpiece, Sandman, his amazing children's book, Odd and the Frost Giants, the immensely popular Stardust, and his magnum opus, American Gods. Despite these tales being absolutely spectacular, Gaiman's work has only received a few adaptations, with the likes of Stardust and Coraline, to name two. After originally being released as an exclusive to Amazon Video, this story of age old gods in a modern world is finally here and with a cast that promises to do it justice. This full season of American Gods is out on DVD and Blu-ray from 31st July.

Pre-warning, this show has many moments that are completely baffling, insanely bewildering, and completely surreal. Whether it is a Djinn and his homosexual lover, a woman absorbing people into her nether regions, or the stark realities of being stuck in a rotting body, the show completely commits to numerous bizarre concepts. While this may be a story of gods, at its heart is just one man, a man called Shadow Moon. At the outset of the series, Shadow is just on his way out of prison, looking forward to reuniting with his wife, Laura, who has been waiting three long years for him to get out. He's also got a job all lined up to step into to get him back on his feet thanks to his best friend Robbie. However, sadly for Shadow, a happy reunion is not on the cards.


 
Unbeknownst to him, his wife has been cheating while he's been inside, with Robbie. Even worse, Shadow can't confront either of them, he can't try to win her back, or even get an explanation as to why she did what she did. They are both dead. A final kiss goodbye from her - not on the mouth - while he's driving, puts an end to the adulterous duo and Shadow is left wondering what could have been, without any explanation. Enter a kindly gentleman into Shadow's life who promises to give him a new purpose.

This enigmatic individual refers to himself as Mr. Wednesday and hopes to enlist Shadow as something of a bodyguard / chauffeur / assistant / general dogs-body. The job seems to basically entail a cross-country road trip where Mr. Wednesday attempts to convince some truly odd individuals into taking up arms with him against a mysterious group. Much of the surrealism, strangeness, and confusion is very much a core part of the show and so it's something not worth spoiling here. Admittedly, it can be rather off-putting for the casual viewer, and it takes real commitment to the show to fully understand what's going on. While this may result in the loss of some of the audience, ultimately, it feels like the right choice.

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There was a major collaboration between the show-runners, Bryan Fuller (of Hannibal) and Michael Green (of Kings), and Neil Gaiman, and it really shows. The series is a completely loyal adaptation of the heart of the books and the final product is all the better for it. It even has let Gaiman go back and flesh out some of his characters - Laura, in particular. This does result in a rather inordinate amount of time in this season being spent on bit part characters, though, instead of focusing on Wednesday and Shadow, but that's a good thing! There is a fantastic wide cast of gods and their transition into the modern world becomes subplots and side-stories that are utterly captivating. Admittedly, the end of the season starts to feel haphazardly arranged, but there are reasons even for this as the 10-episode first season was suddenly compacted to eight and both show runners and Neil had to quickly juggle storylines for everything to fit.

The acting in American Gods is absolutely top tier, with some absolutely amazing performances from numerous members of the cast. Special mention, though, has to go to Emily Browning for her portrayal of Laura Moon; she manages to convey a truly broken individual and one that feels like it has so many more layers and so much depth to it that even though she is very much a horrible character, it's hard not to pity her and even begin to root for her. Gillian Anderson is a pure joy here, too, as she chews the scenery all around her and dishes out some outrages performances in the personas of icons like Ziggy Stardust and Marilyn Monroe. Best of all, however, is the always great Ian McShane, delivering monologues and soliloquies in his trademark dulcet tones. Like Peter Dinklage's Tyrion gtom Game of Thrones, this is an absolutely perfect fit for the character and, honestly, one of the best aspects of the series thus far.


 
There's a great set of featurettes also included with this release. There's a chat with Neil Gaiman himself, a comparison between book and show, plus interviews with numerous cast and crew. There are some fascinating moments, as well, giving further insight into some of the varied casts of gods, both old and new; a great insight into the gods these characters are based on for those without that knowledge. The best of these features is a 10-minute chat with superstar Ian McShane who is refreshingly frank and honest, as always.

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10
Neil Gaiman fans must be ecstatic. Literary adaptations to the level of Game of Thrones are few and far between. Not to say this is quite on the level of the legendary Song of Ice and Fire show, but it's getting there. The complex themes, rich characters, and Gaiman's signature writing shine through fantastically, so much so that the failings of the show can be forgiven. Best of all, by series' end, it feels like the creators have really gotten their footing and the stage is set for a superb second season.

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This show had me really conflicted. There are some wonderful moments in it, and then some boring parts, then it gets very confusing, then there are some horrendous scenes that I felt shouldn't have been in there as they add nothing to it, and then there's a whole historical episode towards the end of the season that seemed totally out of place and I felt was extremely boring...but then Ian McShane and Gillian Anderson shine gloriously.

Really was an up and down season. Very intrigued to see if S2 is more stable (should be, from what I've read).

Adam Riley [ Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited ]
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