Friday 19 January 2018

8 things to know about this year's newest must-watch show - American Gods

Ian McShane and Ricky Whittle on American Gods
Ian McShane and Ricky Whittle on American Gods
Ricky Whittle in American Gods
Ed Power

Ed Power

The first thing to know about American Gods is that it’s completely bonkers.

Ian McShane – still fondly remembered in this part of the world as Eighties mullet icon Lovejoy – plays a demented pensioner who also happens to be a holidaying norse god. The opening episode features the loopiest sex scene this side of David Lynch. Though nominally set in the present day, we are also treated to ten minutes of Vikings enthusiastically hacking one another to bits. 

The second thing to know about American Gods is that it’s the prestige television event of the year. Adapted from Neil Gaiman’s cult 2001 novel and with a $60 million budget it is regarded as the small screen debutante best placed to give Game of Thrones a run for its gold pieces. The hype ahead of its premiere in the United States today and in Ireland on the Amazon streaming service tomorrow has been thunderous. Here is everything you need to know about TV’s hottest new property.

1: It takes a while to get into

Show-runner Bryan Fuller doesn’t take the easy route. With Hannibal,  he imagined the cannibal psychiatrist as the soul-mate of his FBI pursuer. He goes even weirder with American Gods, which tells the story of ex-con Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) and his run-ins with the old world gods mooching around modern America, half forgotten and thoroughly unloved. There are flashbacks to the Viking age and to the arrival on US shores of the first African slaves. In between Shadow Moon enters the employment of sly old dog Mr Wednesday (aka Odin). If any of this makes sense, you’re probably not watching properly.

2: It’s very violent

If you considered Game of Thrones excessively visceral, you are going to find American Gods extremely challenging. In the first five minutes, limbs are lopped off, eyes stabbed and fake blood splashed with abandon. Thereafter, the gore is dialled down – but the threat of something icky coming to pass looms throughout

3: You may recognise the moody lead actor from…Hollyoaks.

As grumpy former prisoner Shadow Moon, Ricky Whittle delivers a masterclass in high-calibre surliness. He rarely smiles and shoulders bad news – such as the death of his wife – with a stoic aloofness. So it’s a surprise to discover that, rather than growing up on the mean streets of some American megapolis, Whittle is from Oldham, got his break on Channel 4 teen soap Hollyoaks and is a former Strictly Come Dancing runner-up.

4: It has been years in the planning

Gaiman, also the author of the popular Sandman graphic novels, has had a long struggle bringing Sandman to the screen. He initially pitched the concept to HBO, the network behind Game of Thrones. However, those plans unravelled with HBO stating it “couldn’t get the script right”. Enter Fremantle, the global production company best known for reality television and low-budget drama (such as The Bill). With Bryan Fuller and Michael Green (Kings) on board as show-runners, a dead-in-the-water project underwent an unlikely resurrection.

5: You can watch it at several levels

American Gods is, as its most basic, a road trip in which Shadow Moon and his employer, Mr Wednesday, have a series of unlikely encounters. However, it is also a meditation on the relationship between old traditions and modern technologies, with the ancient gods in conflict with new deities who embody computers, television, consumerism etc. If you’re up for it, there’s LOTS to get your head around.

6: There’s probably going to be more than one season

All going well, American Gods should run for three series or more. Season one adapts roughly the first third of Gaiman’s 500-plus page novel, with Fuller and Green slowing to pace so that the audience can attune to the surreal world they have conjured.

7: Oh dear – there’s an “Oirish” character.

Leprechaun “Mad Sweeney” is played by Canadian actor Pablo Schreiber and his accent is as terrible as you might fear. He doesn’t quite say “where’s me lucky charms?” – but comes close.

8: Stay with it -–things become clearer

Episodes one and two are a confusing, bloody swirl. That’s just Green and Fuller setting the table. As we proceed with Shadow Moon’s road trip, the storyline – and yes there is one – starts to chug forward and viewers who have persisted will find themselves hooked.

American Gods begins on Amazon Prime tomorrow

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