Emily S. Whitten: American Gods In Your Home?
When I heard that Neil Gaiman’s bestselling novel American Gods was being made into a TV series, I was super-interested. I’ve been a fan of American Gods (and Neil’s body of work oh, generally speaking, for many years and even had the privilege of bringing Neil and the book to The National Press Club in D.C. during its limited Tenth Anniversary Tour. And although the novel is such an epic that I had a bit of trouble picturing how the adaptation would work, I’ve always wanted to see what it would be like on screen.
As the news started filtering in about who would be running the show, writing the show, and playing all the parts, I got more and more excited. And now that I’ve been to the SDCC booth experience (which was appropriately otherworldly and included some cool swag!), attended the panel where I got to see the first trailer and hear those involved discuss their roles, and had a chance to chat with a few of the key cast and crew at the SDCC Starz American Gods/Ash vs. Evil Dead cocktail party, I am, if you can believe it, even more eager for the show to begin.
If you haven’t encountered American Gods before, it’s theoretically not a hard novel to sum up, and yet a blurb doesn’t do it justice because the book is much more than the sum of its parts. At base, the story is a complex mix of the mundane and the mythic, and in tone it ranges from dark, brutal “real life” experiences to eerie, almost hallucinogenic scenes involving gods and mythical creatures. It encompasses everything from the personal difficulties of protagonist Shadow Moon as he is released from prison to find that the life he left has disintegrated while he was away; to a lofty examination of religion, where gods come from, what purposes they serve, and how the changing priorities and beliefs of people shape the world they live in.
The novel contemplates the meaning of death; the rise of the information and social media age and shift in celebrity and media that accompanied it; the loss of old beliefs in the wake of new; the American spirit; and even the vagaries and peculiarities of small-town life. And although American Gods was published fifteen years ago, the conflicts it examines have not diminished in importance and relevance today.
Given the shifting tones of the story, and the deep research and detailed embodiments of the old gods and beliefs that are in American Gods, it needed a seriously talented team to successfully bring it to the screen. Fortunately, along with Neil being directly involved, Starz was up to the challenge; pulling in showrunners/writers like Bryan Fuller and Michael Green and directors like David Slade. Those choices reassured me from the start that Starz had the right idea, particularly after having seen Fuller and Slade’s work on Hannibal, a show that mixes dark, gruesome, gritty scenes with absolutely beautiful and haunting cinematography and sound for an almost disturbingly tactile viewing experience. Given their past work, I have no doubt we are in for a treat with the upcoming show. And that belief was reinforced when, at the SDCC panel, we got to see the first trailer, which literally sent chills down my spine.
We also got to see some of the great cast of the show at the panel. American Gods has some serious all-stars in its ranks, including the likes of Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday. Based on previous work I’ve loved them in, I’m also super excited to know we’ll be seeing Gillian Anderson (Media), Pablo Schreiber (Mad Sweeney), Peter Stormare (Czernobog), Jonathan Tucker (Low Key Lyesmith), Crispin Glover (Mr. World), Orlando Jones (Mr. Nancy), and, as announced at the SDCC panel, Kristin Chenoweth (Easter). At the panel, along with Bryan Fuller, Michael Green, David Slade, and Neil Gaiman, we also got to hear from Ian McShane, Pablo Schreiber, Kristin Chenoweth, Bruce Langley (Technical Boy), Yetide Badaki (Bilquis), and Shadow Moon himself, Ricky Whittle. Every time a cast announcement has come out so far, I’ve thought, “What an incredibly perfect fit that actor will be for that role,” and it was clear from the panel that everyone (including moderator Yvette Nicole Brown) was very into and excited about the show. Fortunately, you can observe the same, if you want to watch the whole panel here.
I got a chance to talk further with some of the American Gods panelists at the super-cool Starz American Gods/Ash vs. Evil Dead cocktail party – and, bonus, got to meet Bruce Campbell, who we all know and love from Evil Dead, but who I also adore as Sam from Burn Notice. I really enjoyed getting to briefly chat with him about the important role Sam played in bringing humor and heart to Burn Notice, and loved his totally Bruce Campbell-confident attitude as he discussed bringing his own instincts and understanding of how Sam needed to fit into the show to the role.
On the American Gods side of the party, I was delighted to have a visit with one of my favorite people and friends, Neil himself (as he is actually known on Twitter). I’ve known Neil for years, and it was great to see him amidst the excitement of his epic novel being adapted into the TV medium, particularly since he’s been very involved with the process. I was also happy for a chance to talk with Bryan Fuller again (with whom I have previously discussed Hannibal). As with Hannibal, Bryan shared that adapting American Gods is akin to creating grand-scale fanfiction. “It’s a love letter to the source material,” he noted; and he was clearly overjoyed at the chance to create such fanfic (seriously, excitement and exuberance for the opportunity just leaks out of that man’s every pore, and it’s great to see). I also talked with Michael Green, who mused that faith is whatever you put your passion into, and the way those things become real is something that is examined “with reverence” in the show.
And I had a fascinating, in-depth conversation with David Slade (who makes the best selfie faces, seriously), who first read American Gods on a plane traveling from England to America and has wanted to make it into a TV show since 2005. He shared that he loves being able to make the story continually “cinematic but weird,” and from our chat, is clearly deep in the weeds of the source material. (Side note: Neil has said he has, e.g., 400 years of history on how Mad Sweeney became Mad Sweeney, and many other bits of backstory that didn’t make it into the final novel; and the show’s writers and directors have speculated that perhaps we will see bits of that (or whole episodes of it!) in the show. Not gonna lie, I would totally watch Pablo Schreiber acting 400 years of Mad Sweeney’s backstory.)
Everything I saw and heard of American Gods at SDCC makes me now slightly-hyperventilating-excited for its premiere in early 2017; and if you want to share my experience and excitement even further, you can check out my con photos here. Also, to keep up on the latest, don’t forget to follow Starz American Gods accounts on Twitter and Instagram].
And until next time, stay tuned for more recaps from SDCC, and Servo Lectio!