Reviews

June 19, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “American Gods”

 

It’s been fascinating to watch AMERICAN GODS play out side-by-side with David Lynch’s rebooted Twin Peaks on the past several Sunday nights, because Bryan Fuller (who created the TV version of Gods with Michael Green from Neil Gaiman’s novel) may be this generation’s most overtly Lynchian TV artist.  Fuller and Lynch are both besotted with mysterious, surreal imagery, often at the cost of conventional storytelling; both believe in pacing that’s slowed-down to the point of seeming immobile; and both mix pulpy plotting and ultra-violence with self-consciously artistic aesthetics.  Their differences, though, are equally clear.  Even though the Showtime Twin Peaks is often close to unwatchable, it has a sort of purity:  witnessing it, you feel that David Lynch would genuinely be incapable of telling his story in any other way, for better and for worse.  With Fuller, the choices are more calculated.  As two of this season’s eight Gods episodes made clear, he can be perfectly straightforward and normatively compelling when he wishes to be.  In a way, even though Fuller’s work is easier to take, this knowledge makes him more frustrating, because his narrative perversity is deliberate.

Even apart from Fuller’s stylistic choices, American Gods turned out to be one of an increasing number of Prestige TV series whose first seasons are essentially a very extended prologue to the story to come.  (Westworld and Legion are two more.)  The eight hours only began to introduce the war between the Old Gods (led by Ian McShane’s “Mr Wednesday,” who is actually the Norse god Odin) and the New Gods (headed by Crispin Glover as “Mr. World”).  Much of the action of Season 1, such as it was, revolved around one or another side recruiting members for the war to come, a battle that didn’t really begin until the last few minutes of tonight’s season finale.  Even now, the reasons for the war are unclear, as are the reasons for choosing one side over another.

The season had other issues.  Fuller and Green led off each episode with a lengthy introductory sequence telling the story of an Old God, and while these passages were often gorgeous to watch and fascinating in their way, they stopped the main story in its tracks.  Even that story often consisted of characters in cars traveling from one place to another for reasons that weren’t particularly clear.  In addition, there was the huge problem that two of the most important characters in the piece were the least interesting, putative hero Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), and New God representative Technical Boy (Bruce Langley), of whom Shadow was mostly impassive as the sidekick Wednesday desperately wanted for unexplained reasons, and Technical Boy was simply annoying.

Despite all that, there was plenty to relish in American Gods.  Both of the season’s best episodes broke the mold of the other six, and both put Emily Browning up front, in one as Shadow’s wife Laura Moon, who’s functioning despite a couple of deaths thanks to a magic coin; and in the other as Essie MacGowan, a woman of the US colonial era whose life, like Laura’s, was dramatically affected by the leprechaun Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber).  Browning has been sensational, giving Gods a human touch it desperately needed and making a strong argument that Laura and not Shadow should be at the center of this tale.  McShane is a delight to watch even when he’s given a limited amount to do, and the guest cast has included diverting appearances by Peter Stormare, Gillian Anderson, Orlando Jones, Betty Gilpin and Corbin Bernsen.

Tonight’s season finale, written by Fuller and Green with Co-Producer Becka Brunsletter, and directed by Floria Sigismundi (who also directed episodes of The Leftovers and The Handmaid’s Tale this season), was mostly par for the series course.  The hour began with a long prologue that returned us to the story of Bilquis (Yetida Badaki), an ancient god who swallows her lovers into her vagina, before turning to the main plot.  That introduced us to the pre-Christian goddess of Easter (Kristen Chenoweth, re-uniting with Fuller from the days of Pushing Daisies), who both Old and New Gods tried to recruit.  Mr. Wednesday finally got her onto her side by lying about who had killed Vulcan (Bernsen), and she committed the first real act of the war by making the crops barren, in order to force people to pray for the harvest to return.  (There were also amusing appearances of many Jesus Christs visiting at her home for Eastern Sunday, including one played by Jeremy Davies.)  Although Mr. Wednesday also finally got an affirmation of belief from Shadow after he revealed his identity as Odin, that may not last long into Season 2 once Shadow finds out that Wednesday had Laura murdered as part of his strategy.

American Gods is a mixed bag, but it’s a bag that would have been considered unimaginable on television just a few years ago.  This confirmed non-fan of Fuller’s much-acclaimed Hannibal would also note that it’s considerably more enjoyable to watch than that series, less unrelievably dark and sickeningly violent, and with some welcome humor–it even feels faster moving, despite the 60-minute episodes.  It remains to be seen whether Season 2 will tell a more cohesive story now that the war of the Gods is underway, or if Fuller’s stylistic preferences will leave things scattered.  Even as something of a mess, though, American Gods is a distinctive and frequently remarkable one.

 



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on screened.com and the-burg.com. In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."




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