Monday, May 01, 2017

The Bone Orchard

Last night, STARZ premiered their newest television series, American Gods. It's based on the Neil Gaiman book I finished reading a short while back (and mostly enjoyed). It's also a show co-created and being run by Bryan Fuller, the man behind Pushing Daisies, Hannibal, and others. (And it's the show he picked over the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery when he couldn't maintain both.) In short, real appointment television.

The first episode is an incredibly faithful adaptation of the first few chapters of the book. On the plus side, that means that Gaiman's already vivid characters have been brought into even sharper focus in the translation to screen, and with perfect casting all around.

Ricky Whittle makes for a great Shadow Moon, our protagonist (an anchor on reality) in all the supernatural that's about to unfold. Inner monologue plays a big part in how the book portrays Shadow; he's a character who keeps emotion bottled up tight most of the time. This is the first I've seen of Whittle (though he has some past credits), but he immediately demonstrates the ability to capture all this. He tries not to tip his hand, but you get the sense of everything boiling beneath the surface. (And we've already seen moments where that boils over.)

Ian McShane is, unsurprisingly, the perfect Mr. Wednesday. (As I noted of the book, he's the face I think you'd inevitably conjure for the character from the page.) Calm and controlled, but with a dark streak of menace -- that's Wednesday and McShane.

More of Gaiman's characters made a big impression in this first episode too. Bruce Langley played an annoyingly punchable (but powerful) Technical Boy. Pablo Schreiber brought the fun and the funny as leprechaun Mad Sweeney. And I think few who watched the episode will soon forget the bizarre Bilquis, played by Yetide Badaki. (How were they going to pull off that scene from the book? Answer: very disturbingly.)

What remains to be seen is whether and how the series will open up the book in the episodes ahead. If they don't, then this would seem to be a show that could last only one or two seasons, tops, before running out of book to cover. Is the show going to make recurring use of these indelible characters, or (like the book) are they just stops (some quite brief) on Shadow's wild adventures? A chance for Fuller to call up old friends he's worked with to say, "wanna come do one episode?"

Way too early to answer any of that. But the first episode was well put together and quite entertaining. I give it an A-.

No comments: