If there's one thing episodic TV can offer that film can't, it's a long and sprawling highway with which to tell your story. A few braver souls have tried and ultimately abandoned the tale of American Gods, due to it's expansive narrative. In days gone by HBO would probably have been the best place for Neil Gaiman's epic tail about the gods of yore pitting themselves against the powerful manifestations of what humans now worship. However, there's now a few homes for such a mythical parable and Starz have been the ferryman for this incarnation.
It's extremely fitting that the epic tale that touches on the idea of faith is indeed so faithful to Gaiman's original tome. It seems that this is due to showrunner Bryan Fuller and director David Slade for truly understanding the story they are telling. Even the titles observe twisted totems of the gods and modern day altars constructed from cars and tech.
Our story begins when Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) is released from prison, earlier than expected, following his wife's death. The odyssey unfolds when Shadow meets the enigmatic Mr. Wednesday, played with jubilant aplomb by Ian McShane. McShane doesn't so much chew the scenery as he does pick it from his teeth. Mr Wednesday is just like the bourbon he steadily sips on: wry and relaxed.
Like so many tricksters, the pilot of most TV shows now attempt the wait-and-see illusion. Weaker opening acts can feel like a hoard of jostling plot points thrown into the air and chosen at random. Not so much a "slow burn" as a "bubbling gumbo". American Gods is careful to lay it's story out, aware that it's not going to tell you all it needs in it's first hour, it tantalises more than deliberately confuses.
It's just as well when you consider how potent the visuals are. Ethereal seems to be the order of the day. While there's obvious dream imagery with clawing tree branches and flaming-eyed buffalo, even the real world possesses something intangible. Cleverly the mysticism haunts the frames instead of distracting apparitions. The result is an unpredictable feeling of anticipation. It means that while you may be certain that all is not as it seems, you understand why Shadow may be struggling with the goings on. It's one of the most sardonic seductions ever on the small screen.
4* - Exodus: Cons and Kings
Other Episodes in American Gods - Season 1: