American Gods: Wandering in the Desert for 30 Years

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Warning: might contain spoilers.

Like many people, I thoroughly enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. It was a fantastic journey through mythology and how the ideas humans worshipped grew and changed over centuries and millennia. When the television series of the book was announced, I was thrilled. I looked forward to meeting what the filmmakers and actors visualized for the characters I’d grown fascinated with.

The first season was very solid, and essentially met my expectations. They hit the major beats, they kept reasonably close to the story from the book, and they moved the story along – mostly. I thought their casting choices were more than just solid, and it was pleasing to see so many actors of color filling out roles that were written as such, rather than the whitewashing that’s been so common in Hollywood for decades.

So when I heard that the second season had been approved, I was filled with hope and excitement. As time went on, and rumors began to swirl about major cast members walking away from production, I grew concerned. Then, when production delays were announced, my concern deepened, and the loss of the directors — reportedly thanks to a dispute with the Starz network over funding and production costs — conjured shades of my disappointment with The Walking Dead after their showrunner was forced out midway through season two. My optimism deflated.

I began watching the long-delayed second-season with trepidation; as it turned out, my fears were well-founded. The second season — eight hour-long episodes, same as the first season — advanced the story about three pages, in my estimation. Too many episodes, it seems to me, spent time examining character motivations that had already been well-established in season one. A few major book events were highlighted, but most of those were altered to fit a newly-crafted narrative of the story. Far more events that were fabricated, drawing not from the book but from murkier motivations, were introduced. An entire episode was devoted to Thor, who merited only a few sentences through the entire novel, in a brazen effort to pander to a particular audience segment.

Throughout, I’ve been highly impressed with the acting performances. Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon has been fantastic, though the second season writing seems to have him reliving the same doubts and insecurities he faced — and seemingly conquered — in season one. Pablo Schreiber has been a treat as the Leprechaun, Mad Sweeney, and Yetide Badaki alternates oozing sultry sexuality and giving voice to insightful observations as Bilquis. I miss Chris Obi’s sly and subtle performances as Anubis, and Gillian Anderson, as new god Media, left the show with the departure of the previous showrunners. The gaping hole she left behind has been filled with an inadequately written part and a actor — Kahyun Kim — who hasn’t been given much to work with.

After watching the full second season, I felt as if I’d eaten an entire box of divinity: not filling, not satisfying, and ultimately a waste of time. T. kept up a hopeful litany throughout this second season, thoughtfully reminding me that the serialization would not necessarily be the same as the book. When the final episode aired last night, we both shook our heads. She is still holding out for next season and the treatment of Lakeside, Wisconsin and the enigmatic town’s goodwill ambassador, Hintzelmann. For me, the show has gone so far off the rails — and clearly is determined to turn what should have been a one-, maybe two-season series into an epic, years-long marathon a la Games of Thrones — that I can no longer muster the energy to care. The difference is that American Gods is one book: Game of Thrones is based on several, with more (theoretically) being written. It reminds me painfully of the feature film, The Hobbit. What should have been one, perhaps even two films (again, based on a single novel — and a short one at that) was stretched into three, and the subsequent padding of content to fill the extra time left me wondering why I bothered. The same has come to be true for my relationship with the American Gods series. It was a great idea, but the execution has been, for me, more about naked greed than bringing a very good story to a wider audience. I’ve lost interest in it: I’m done.

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