REVIEW: American Gods Season 2
American Gods arrived on Starz with a stellar cast and terrific source material, the novel by Neil Gaiman. It had pedigreed producers in Bryan Fuller, who ankled his shot at Star Trek: Discovery to devote himself fulltime to this; and Michael Green, a superb writer with tons of genre credits. It was visually arresting, emotionally moving, and stunningly weird.
Then there’s the second season. Fuller and Green were jettisoned amidst problems with the skyrocketing budget that exceeded $10 million per episode and their increased deviation from the novel. When Starz finally settled on Jesse Alexander to showrun the season alongside of Gaiman, a novice at television production. They scrapped the first six scripts while Starz cut the order from ten to eight episodes to save money and delayed release marking two years between seasons. Kristen Chenoweth and Gillian Anderson left in support of the ousted producers so their roles needed to be recast.
What viewers received this spring was a mess. Plodding, dark, hard to decipher – pick your adjectives. It got to the point where you find yourself putting off watching it and doing so more out of loyalty to Gaiman and/or the novel than genuine affection for the show.
Out now as a three-disc Blu-ray box set (with Digital HD code) from Lionsgate Home Entertainment, the series does hew closer to the novel as the stakes in the war between the old gods and modern gods escalates.
It’s still a delight to watch Ian McShane, Orlando Jones, Emily Browning, and Pablo Schreiber play their parts. The guest cast was strong with the radiant Cloris Leachman, William Sanderson, Lee Arenberg, and Laura Bell Bundy among others.
The concepts remain strong and the extra time compared with novel has allowed for characters to grow and evolve, but the pacing is deadly slow, scenes are too dark to follow, and the emotional intensity is lacking pretty much until the penultimate episode when a beloved character is dispatched. It’s been reported that McShane and Jones wound up adlibbing many of their lines, so much so that Jones received screen credit.
Ex-con Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) remains caught between factions, more confused than an active participant in the struggle. He also has to struggle with spending time with his dead wife Laura (Emily Browning), who has eclipsed him as an interesting personality on the series.
For a struggle of ideologies, ancestral memory versus current experiences, its often spoken of more than played out, much to my regret. It is nice, though, to have more than your typical assortment of Norse and Greek gods, and at least we have an international assortment that will send some scurrying to the Internet to learn more about. Episode six, as we watch the gods arrive in the New World, was perhaps the season’s strongest episode.
It would have been nice to have a mythology primer as a special feature. Instead, we have The House on the Rock: Setting the Stage (Patton Oswalt hosts a San Diego Comic-Con panel), The Second Coming: Neil Gaiman on Season Two (oh, the jokes we could make here), and Gods and Ends: Random Musing from the Cast, which could describe one or two of this season’s episodes.
The 1080p video transfer in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio looks nice and rich on a home screen. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 sound is a fine match.
Stepping in to showrun season three, yes there will be one, is The Walking Dead’s Charles “Chic” Eglee, which finally will take us to the Lakeside portion of the novel. He and Gaiman, who is not a showrunner this time, have broken down the third season and even laid out plans for a fourth. So you may want to watch this as homework for better times ahead.