‘American Gods’ takes the fun out of Neil Gaiman’s fantasy classic

Peter Stormare as one of the American Gods.
Photo: Starz / Courtesy

Two stars

American Gods Sundays, 9 p.m., Starz. Premieres April 30.

Anyone who has read Neil Gaiman’s 2001 novel American Gods will know that Starz’s TV-series adaptation is about a brewing conflict between old gods (those from ancient pantheons) and new (representations of concepts like media and technology) in the theological melting pot of the United States. But it takes an excruciatingly long time for the show to reveal anything close to that much, and even when the supernatural elements are more overt, they’re portrayed with such solemnity that they lack most of the wit and liveliness of Gaiman’s prose.

That somber, oppressive tone extends to the performances and the writing, too, but the worst thing about American Gods is its absurdly slow pace; reportedly the eight-episode first season will only cover the first third of Gaiman’s novel. Even individual scenes are drawn-out and tedious, as creators Bryan Fuller (Hannibal) and Michael Green belabor every character interaction and slight narrative advancement. Star Ricky Whittle (The 100) is aggressively bland as Shadow Moon, the ostensibly regular guy who gets drawn into the world of gods and monsters when he’s recruited by the mysterious Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) after being released from prison. Although Shadow is meant to be a sympathetic, relatable observer to the chaos around him, Whittle is upstaged by every other member of the cast, and McShane so thoroughly dominates their scenes together that Whittle might as well not even be onscreen.

The supporting actors who show up as fellow gods, including Orlando Jones, Gillian Anderson, Peter Stormare, Pablo Schreiber, Cloris Leachman and others, bring a bit of spark to their characters, but many of them appear only in disjointed interludes or preludes that appear to have little bearing on the main story. And while the heavily stylized sex and violence can look beautiful, it’s often just as grim and ponderous as the dialogue and pacing. Only late in the fourth episode does the story begin to coalesce, but by that point it’s likely that anyone who wasn’t a fan to begin with will have long since tuned out.

Tags: Film, Television
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