First impressions of Starz’s American Gods, which premiered its first episode at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas on Saturday: a very adult fantasy mashup that tackles big ideas about religion and immigration with humor, sex and very graphic violence.
The first hour follows just-released convict Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) who gets a job offer to become an assistant and strongman for the mysterious Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane, having a blast) and is pulled into a wild, weird world of new gods (such as the worship of technology and media) vs. the old (such as Bilquis, the Queen of Sheeba, played by Yetide Badaki). The hour offers more than one scene-stealing character, is gorgeously filmed (by Hannibal veteran David Slade) and includes one jaw-dropper of a sex scene where (mild spoiler alert) a man is consumed by his lover’s vagina. “I love it” and “WTF, I don’t get it” are two likely reactions.
After the screening, executive producer Bryan Fuller (who created the show along with Michael Green working from Neil Gaiman’s novel) discussed how the view of American Gods has changed since Donald Trump was elected president last year.
“It’s definitely a different show that we set out to make because the political climate in America sh– its pants and we’re now telling massive immigration stories in a climate that vilifies immigrants, so we have a strange new platform to start a different kind of conversation,” Fuller said.
The actual show has changed as well when compared to the novel. Fuller revealed American Gods sought to flesh out the female roles. “We actually expanded several of the female roles from the book as it tended to get into a sausage party between Shadow and Wednesday, so we knew we needed much more female energy going into it. We expanded Bilquis, we expanded Audrey [Betty Gilpin — one of the aforementioned scene stealers who scored of laughs from the preview audience].”
The sprawling and impressive cast includes Gillian Anderson (as Media), Crispin Glover (as Mr. World), Cloris Leachman (as Zorya), and Kristen Chenoweth (as Easter) — none of whom are in the first episode.
McShane — who is nothing if not blunt in his opinions of projects he’s worked on — was extremely impressed.
“I’d just like to say that’s the first frame I’ve ever seen,” McShane said after the pilot screened. “I’ve never seen any of it before and I thought it was f—ing amazing. Really. I was riveted. I’ve seen nothing like it.”
American Gods premieres April 30.
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