AMERICAN GODS Review: “The Bone Orchard”

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Just from the name, I was excited for Starz’s new drama, AMERICAN GODS. I admit, all that I knew about the show was that it was an adaptation of a novel by Neil Gaiman of the same name, and it had something to do with gods on earth. I’d say my basic knowledge of the show covered about .5% percent of what I saw during the premiere episode of American Gods, “The Bone Orchard.”

For those of you savvy with the book, you’ll know that the show centers on the idea that as people immigrate to America they bring their different religious beliefs and gods with them. Those gods have to deal with being immigrants of a new land and are threatened with a generation of new deities – “gods of credit card and freeway, of Internet and telephone, of radio and hospital and television, gods of plastic and of beeper and of neon.” Don’t look to the first episode to give you a clear indication of what the show’s premise is about, though. For those of us who haven’t read the book and aren’t familiar with the characters, we’re thrown into main character Shadow’s (Ricky Whittle) journey pretty blindly, and really aren’t given a sense of direction until the final moments of the show where Shadow comes face to face with one of the new deities.

I’m warning my people who haven’t read the book now: don’t go into the first episode with a clear idea of what you think the show will be. You’ll be salty, stressed, and confused. Incidentally, I was all three of those things – until I suspended my own beliefs on what makes a “good show” and let the art take over (do I sound like a bougie television reviewer yet?).

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A show that truly fits the definition of why we’re currently in the “Golden Age of ” American Gods is beautifully shot and thrilling. Episode one is directed by David Slade, who directed episodes of Hannibal, and the stylized and hyper realistic visuals definitely give off some Hannibal vibes.

After the first few moments of American Gods, I was amazed at just how gruesomeness it was. Blood was used as a waterfall of color, and it was as beautiful as it was disturbing. American Gods began with a narrator telling the story of a Viking soldier, who after months at sea, he and his men landed on an island that they hoped would be paradise. After realizing the land was hostile, the men prayed to their gods for the winds to return and get their ship off the island. After their prayers go unheard, they turn to human sacrifice, battling each other and killing their own in the hopes to appease the God of to bring them wind. It worked, and I learned that this show wouldn’t be such an easy pill to swallow.

The story officially begins with Shadow, a man in jail with a strange sense that something wrong is about to happen. He has five days until he’s out of prison and back to his wife, Laura. The show introduces us to a bit of its magical realism, when he begins to dream about other worlds. The story turns quickly — Shadow is torn apart when he learns he’ll be getting out of jail early because his wife has died due to an automobile accident.

While on the plane back to he and his wife’s hometown, he is miraculously seated in first class next to a mysterious man named Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) who offers him some “perfectly legal work.” He tells Shadow not to rush into his decision before swiftly passing out, one of his two talents as he tells Shadow.

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Shortly after we meet Shadow, we meet a goddess who leads a nervous online hookup date guy to her boudoir. While they begin to have sex, she demands that the man worships her, “praise me like I’m your goddess.” She demands him to say her name, and while he rains praises down on her, it’s clear that the man becomes possessed by… something? She finally demands that he “give her his body”, and literally pushes him (like head to toe) inside of her, disappearing him forever.

We return back to Shadow, who is approached again by the mysterious Mr. Wednesday. He learns that his best friend, Robbie, is also dead, and that he died in the same accident as his wife. He uses Shadow’s hopelessness to offer him the vague again. While Shadow fights off Mr. Wednesday’s advances, he’s approached by a man claiming to be a leprechaun warning him about Mr. Wednesday. Eventually, Mr. Wednesday recruits Shadow to work for him as muscle against untold enemies.

Finally Shadow, now accompanied by Mr. Wednesday, makes it to his wife’s funeral. At the funeral, Shadow learns that Laura died while cheating on him with Robbie (something that I thought was a little obvious but still a sad realization for our character nonetheless).

It’s not until the final moments of the show that we get a semblance of what the main storyline will be about. Shadow finds a mysterious glowing box in a field that immediately attaches to his face and transports him into some futuristic, holographic limo where some pricky kid interrogates Shadow on what he’s doing with Mr. Wednesday. He rants that Mr. Wednesday and people like him are “old” and that people like himself are the future. “Language is a virus, and prayers are spam.” Shadow doesn’t admit to the kid what his involvement is with Mr. Wednesday, and the kid sends Shadow away to be “deleted.” It appears to be the end of our hero until some unseen force that literally tears his captors limb from limb saves him. And just when I was starting to put things together, the episode cuts to credits.

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In addition to the trippy, yet visually stunning main story, it seems as if episodes will be punctuated with short vignettes of gods and goddess coming to America, as done in the novel. If the intense sex-scene in this episode was any indication of the no holds barred story telling we have coming to us, then I’m excited to see what’s to come and how these storylines will intersect. Also, a goddess that sucks the souls and bodies of men into her during sex? I’m here for it.

Ya’ll. For those of you out there looking for a phenomenal example on word building and introductions, please look at this show. We all know that too much exposition can be the death of even a well-told story, and a lot of writers look for ways to tell a story without spending time explaining the rules of the world. American Gods doesn’t have time for that and American Gods proves that with the right visuals, director, score, and actors – you don’t need that. Now we ain’t all about to write the next American Gods, and most of us will need to stick with the basics, but so far, without any exposition and very little direction, American Gods has drawn me into its world with the first episode. That being said, I’m not sure if its style will be for everyone. Even its beautifully shot visuals are often a tad disorienting and often weird. That combined with Gods’ lack of rat’s hats to give about walking you through what’s going on might be a turn off to some viewers.

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These characters weren’t acting, they were performing. Every time McShane appeared on the screen as Mr. Wednesday I was intrigued. He played his role with such a controlled insanity that you could see in his face that made watching him exciting and enthralling. The leprechaun that appeared in the bar was as charismatic as he was provoking. My favorite performance came from Audrey, Robbie’s wife, who played her role as a crazy ass, grieving bitter wife, who antagonizes Shadow after his wife’s funeral. She proposes to give him a blowjob over her husband’s grave. She goes feral, and the performance is so strange and gripping I realized that despite the first episode throwing me into the deep end, the outstanding performances of this show alone is enough to stick around until all is revealed.

I honestly don’t mind what little information we got this episode, because besides the visuals, the ending peaked my interest enough to get me really excited about the fight between gods and the “new gods.’ I’m down for the ride, and although I was into what episode one brought me, here’s to hoping we get just a LITTLE more information next time. Just a little.

TB-TV-Grade-A

Season 1, Episode 1 (S01E01)
American Gods airs Sundays at 8PM on Starz

Read all of our reviews of American Gods here. 
Read our reviews of more of your favorite shows here.


Writer based in LA. Just trying to write good stuff while deep conditioning my hair.
Keep up with all of Vanessa’s reviews here.

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