We’re almost one week away from the series premiere of “the most important show on TV,” a.k.a. American Gods. Don’t worry if you’re somehow still a non-believer or completely ignorant of this divine series because we’ve put together this handy-dandy cheat sheet to prepare you.
First thing’s first: What is ‘American Gods’?
Well, it’s a television show. Sorry, is that enough information? Fine.
Developed for television by TV auteur Bryan Fuller and screenwriter-du-jour Michael Green (Logan, Murder on the Orient Express), American Gods is based on Neil Gaiman’s 2001 novel of the same name that begins with the premise that gods live among us in America. In fact, there are two types of gods. The old, mythical gods — like Anansi, Odin, Easter — who arrived in America when their believers emigrated here years ago via Viking ships, slave ships, or what have you. Gods are fed by worship (not croissants, as some rappers may have led you to believe), which means the modern age hasn’t been nice on these old ones since belief in them has waned and, in many places, has been supplanted by our devotion to technology and celebrities. This change has led to the manifestation of new gods embodying these consumerist concerns; for example, Media, the goddess of TV. Thus, the stage is set for the main conflict in the series: A war between the old gods and the new gods.
We’re introduced to this burgeoning conflict through Shadow, a convict who’s released from jail the same day his wife dies. Without any other options, he accepts a job working for Mr. Wednesday, a mysterious grifter who opens Shadow’s eyes to the mythical nature of the world around him. Accompanied by Shadow, Mr. Wednesday embarks on an odyssey across our beautiful land of the free to recruit other old gods so that they can defend their position in America.
So, do I need to read the book?
To understand series? No. But you should because Gaiman’s novel is fantastic and, despite what the current wave of anti-intellectualism says, reading is good for you. (In all seriousness, the show, at least in the first four episodes given to the media, remains pretty faithful Gaiman’s tome and even includes his Somewhere in America asides which do a great job of developing the show’s world).
Okay, I understand the show’s plot, but tell me, what is the show actually *about*?
We’ll let the show’s cast and producers answer this question.
Neil Gaiman previously told EW: “This is a story about immigrants… It’s about America being built of people who have come from elsewhere, who have left their culture behind them, and it’s a way of talking about that difference between old and new, about future shock for immigration, for technology. And at the time that we wrote the scripts to start shooting, it did not feel like anything had really changed.”
Cast member Yetide Badaki, who plays one of the old gods (more on her later), said: “We are literally asking now, what is America? This is a question that’s popping up in the news, and this show is asking all of the little questions around that question, and showing the journey for people who come here and try to find themselves, which I think is so important to ask now because everyone seems a little lost. They actually had to class it psychologically — they call us TCKs now, third culture kids — because we’re no longer completely of the old culture but also not completely of this new culture. And the combination creates another culture. And thank goodness they gave it a name because I know so many people, kids growing up, who ask, ‘Who am I in all this?’ So, God or not, this search for identity is so relevant.”
Who is in it?
The 100‘s Ricky Whittles plays Shadow Moon, the skeptical ex-convict who starts working for the con-artist and de-facto leader of the old gods, Mr. Wednesday, here played by Deadwood‘s Ian McShane.
In addition to Mr. Wednesday, here are the other old gods we’ll encounter on this journey through America: Mad Sweeney (Orange Is the New Black‘s Pablo Schreiber), a down-on-his-luck leprechaun who crosses paths with the above odd couple; the Germanic goddess Easter, played by Kristin Chenoweth; Bilquis, an ancient goddess of love played by newcomer Yetide Badaki; the African trickster god Mr. Nancy (Orlando Jones); Jesus (Lost alum Jeremy Davies), one of many Jesuses; the Slavic god of darkness and evil Czernobog (Peter Stormare); the three guardians of the constellations, Zorya Vechernyaya (Cloris Leachman), who shares an intimate moment with Mr. Wednesday, Zorya Utrennyaya (Martha Kelly), and Zorya Polunochnaya (Erika Kaar); The Jinn (Mousa Kraish); Mr. Ibis (Demore Barnes), the keeper of stories; Anubis (Chris Obi), the Egyptian god of the dead; and Vulcan (Psych‘s Corbin Bernsen), the Roman God of fire who isn’t struggling thanks to the nation’s love of firearms (here’s a first look at Vulcan).
And on the opposing side, we have the new gods: Gillian Anderson’s Media, the embodiment of #PeakTV who appears as different stars throughout the series (here’s a first look at her as Judy Garland); Technical Boy (newcomer Bruce Langley), the impulsive god of technology; and their leader Mr. World, played by Crispin Glover.
The non-deity cast includes: Emily Browning (Sucker Punch) as Laura Moon, Shadow’s recently-deceased wife who finds out that there is indeed life after death; Dane Cook as Shadow’s best friend Robbie; GLOW‘s Betty Gilpin as Robbie’s wife Audrey; and Jonathan Tucker as Low Key Lyesmith, Shadow’s fast talking, wise, and only friend in prison.
Is it any good?
Yes, it is! EW TV critic Jeff Jensen gave the visually stunning show an A- and said that the characters, the concept, and the deeply considered filmmaking captured his imagination. He was especially fond of episode four, which focuses on Laura and is where he went from liking the series to loving it. For his insightful review of the series, click here.
Okay, I’m sold. How do I watch it?
American Gods will Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on Starz beginning April 30. For more information about watching the show — including what to do if you don’t already subscribe to Starz or live outside of the U.S., click here.