“Starz loves c**k.”
Those were co-developer Bryan Fuller’s words as he explained the eye-popping abundance of full-frontal male nudity in the upcoming Starz series American Gods, based on Neil Gaiman’s 2001 novel.
The eight-episode first season, which stars Ian McShane, Emily Browning, Orlando Jones, Crispin Glover, Yetide Bedake, Pablo Schreiber, and Ricky Whittle as protagonist Shadow Moon, is a unusual road trip—emphasis on the “trip.” It takes us on a frequently surreal journey with an ex-convict and a disgruntled god who is in search of allies. They meet quite a few characters. Sometimes they’re naked.
As co-developer Michael Green pointed out, “Starz said up front they encouraged male nudity, because they didn’t want to take a hit with this show having [only] female nudity.”
American Gods isn’t about sex. American Gods isn’t about gore either, even though there’s some serious bloodletting in the first and fourth episodes.
No. It’s about America and Neil Gaiman trying to quantify of all three thousand+ miles and three hundred years+ of it. As befits a book about the gods of America, Gaiman was inspired by something uniquely American: A roadside attraction of a cheese wheel.
Gaiman said, “Near Stevens Point, Wisconsin, there is still a huge tractor trailer with a glass side, inside of which is a full-sized yellow polystyrene replica of what was the largest block of cheese in the world [from] the 1961 World’s Fair.” (It recently closed.)
He looked at the pseudo-cheese and said, “I have to make sense of this place.”
He came to the conclusion that America was composed of immigrants…some of whom brought their old-time religion with them. But new gods sprang into being. Now the old and new gods are on the verge of war.
The book coalesces into one of the most unique pieces of television I’ve ever seen. Viewers will say, “Welp, I’ve never seen anything like that before” at least half a dozen times.
That was a deliberate choice on the part of Fuller, whose other work includes Hannibal and Pushing Daisies. “We were chasing things that were fresh to us, just to keep excited,” Fuller said.
It wasn’t just Fuller who was excited. After one blistering speech about slavery, given by Orlando Jones as Mr. Nancy, the show’s extras stood up and applauded him.
The scene—you’ll know it when it happens—should earn Jones a nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie, if not the award itself.
But he won’t be the only contender. The show is filled with strong performances, from the unapologetically sexual/murderous Bilquis, to Laura, who only loses her self-centeredness after she’s dead, to the rage-filled, overly large leprechaun Mad Sweeney. Many of the characters here aren’t likable. You will love them anyway.
I could see it nominated for writing and production awards as well. American Gods is often weird, at times off-putting, and always compelling.
That’s not surprising, considering the source material. In the past, producers had approached Gaiman about turning his novel into a movie and asked him for ideas. “I would say to them, ‘I have no idea. It’s not movie shaped.’”
But it wasn’t until Gaiman met Bryan Fuller that he realized his book was in the right hands. “Bryan [said], “I love [American Gods], I bought it when it came out. I’m a fan of yours. I don’t know how we turn it into a TV series.’ And that I found, weirdly, more inspiring of confidence than I would a kind of smart slick person saying, ‘Okay, this is how we’re going to do it.’”
According to Gaiman, the first season of the show covers the first third of the novel. If Media and the new gods are good, Starz will give us three seasons. Or more.
Oh, and if you’re thinking about a spin-off or sequel series based on Gaiman’s tangentially related book Anansi Boys, you can stop right there. The rights to Anansi Boys are owned by the UK Red Production Company; the book may be adapted for the BBC, but Gaiman said, “It remains to be seen.”
American Gods airs weekly, beginning April 30. See it. The gods command you.
Will you be watching the show? Have you read the book? Share your thoughts on the book and show in the comments!
Image Credits: Starz.com