Perhaps two days in is too early to say the world premiere of the AMERICAN GODS pilot, the upcoming Starz series from Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies, Hannibal) and Michael Green (The River), is the best screening at SXSW, but it will be, by far, at least one of the best things to come out of the festival this year.
Based on the Neil Gaiman novel of the same name, the story follows Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) who’s released early from prison following the death of his wife, Laura (Emily Browning), and best friend Robbie (Dane Cook). Aimless and uncertain, Shadow suddenly finds himself in the employment of Mr. Wednesday, a mysterious and shrewd man, and thrust into events much larger than himself as both Old Gods and New prepare for a world-changing confrontation.
While much can’t be said about the pilot quite yet, its medieval prologue takes time to ease into. At first, it comes across as more Starz’s series than Fuller’s, and this is definitely an instance where the creator’s vision should trump the network’s. However, once Shadow’s story begins, the perfect marriage between both Fuller and Gaiman’s creative direction becomes apparent and the episode soars. Visually and tonally, it’s a wonder, with high contrast and soft focuses, as Fuller and Green’s script perfectly blends Gaiman’s massive, cultural undertaking with the dark humor found in the novel and performances across the board firing on all cylinders.
Fuller has made it no secret that the series will differ slightly from the book and it happens as early as the pilot, but it’s an organic and enriching blend of ideas, rather than anything that feels tacked on to Gaiman’s already expansive story.
One of the ways American Gods the series will differ is in its breadth of female characters. Laura will have an expanded role in the show, as will characters like Bilquis (Yetide Badaki) aka the Queen of Sheba who appears in various religions. Bilquis has a particularly memorable scene in the pilot, which earned applause from the audience. It’s a scene that may at first feel like a random interlude but, in fact, introduces the audience not only to the ways in which the Old Gods continue to live on in a modern world but also the depiction of a powerful female character and deity. It promises a captivating look at the identity specifically attached to female figures in belief systems.
On that note, a stand-out from the screening and subsequent Q&A is the series’ commitment to diversity. Fuller revealed that one of the things Gaiman insisted on during the development stage of the first season was that the actors must be the same ethnicity and background as their characters. Given the series is about so many different cultures and beliefs from across the world, and Gaiman’s own dedication to diversity as an author and public figure, the information came as no surprise but was heartening to hear all the same, especially in a time in which diversity increasingly must be demanded.
Orlando Jones, who plays Mr. Nancy, spoke to the series’ relevance to race in the midst of movements like Black Lives Matter, immigration, and other themes. Indeed, Fuller also said in the Q&A that with American Gods, the intention was to be color-focused, not colorblind. It cannot be ignored that Shadow is a black protagonist, as well as the various images and symbols of nooses in the pilot, which is to say nothing of Shadow’s violent introduction to Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) and how the pilot ends.
Ultimately, American Gods is poised to be not only one of the biggest television events of the year, and is sure to garner critical acclaim, but will also turn out to be one of the most thematically relevant and powerful television series as well.
Anya is a writer and editor with a passion for pursuing diverse narratives and perspectives. Her feminist icons are Lauren Bacall and Leslie Knope and she can often be found at a Disney park when she’s not working on her Masters in Mass Communication/Journalism at Cal State University Northridge.
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Anya Crittenton | Associate Editor