So, how much of a trainwreck is it now?
See, for those not in the know, in the year+ absence of American Gods, there was a lot of drama involved with, well, the stuff we don’t see directly. Series creators Bryan Fuller and Michael Green both left, possibly against their will, over what has been described as either a money dispute (the show’s pretty expensive) or creative differences with author of the book it’s based on Neil Gaiman. From there, a couple cast members quit, scripts were discarded, lines were improvised on the spot, the season order was cut short, and a replacement showrunner was hired and then fired, but she’s still working on the show. This could all go really, really badly right?
Well, maybe. Just judging by the season premier, there have been a few changes but nothing overt. Anyone hoping for another “backstory for a god” moment like the opening of so many episodes in season one will probably be disappointed, but the cast members who left were playing gods who didn’t necessarily appear in every episode, and quite frankly, given the nature of the show, replacing them probably won’t be too tough. Heck, Media’s whole thing was she appeared as something of a different person in each episode she appeared in. Getting someone new in there won’t be too jarring, but this episode opens with the Technical Boy, driving like a mad man over a golf course (and the occasional golfer) before Mr. World sends him off to find the new Media. And what does Technical Boy insist in his opening few lines before Mr. World even has anything to say? That he knows what he’s doing.
A little on-the-nose there, maybe?
But in terms of actors, I’d say we only really need Ricky Whittle’s Shadow, Emily Browning’s Laura, and probably Ian McShane’s Mr. Wednesday. Sure, it’s nice to have Orlando Bloom’s fiery Mr. Nancy drop swear words and sneer at the world he lives in, but could someone else maybe play the African trickster spider? Sure, theoretically. Many of these folks aren’t human characters, so why limit themselves to a single face?
That said, even though the episode feels more like “normal” television (something of a step down from the more surrealistic first season), it still had a lot of bombast going for it. Want a djinn as a glorified bouncer at the House on the Rock, keeping the unwanted mortals and Mad Sweeney away from the meeting? Sure. Close-ups of the inside of a fortune telling machine as it pumps out a card for Shadow? OK. Bilquis getting some lines while keeping her clothes on? Works for me. Mad Sweeney’s bad luck continuing, even at one point saving his life from a sniper bullet because he slipped and fell over at the exact right moment? Heck yeah. I love his continued shouting of “dead wife” whenever he addresses Laura. Ian McShane monloguing about the spiritual power of the American roadside attraction? That’s almost worth the price of admission all on its own, and that’s before Czernobog does a little dance or drops a very specific curse on an unseen assailant that would mean a lot to anyone who read the book.
As for the basic plot here: Wednesday has his summit of gods at the House on the Rock inside his own memories. Bilquis shows up uninvited to argue against war, but she isn’t quite in league with the newer gods from the sounds of things. Shadow says some stuff that convinces the ones on the fence to join in, and then Mr. World orders a sniper attack from the mysterious Mr. Town, another character book readers should know. That ends with one of the Zoyra’s dead, Shadow captured, and Laura seeing his light fade in the distance as a helicopter takes him away. And with Zorya’s death, we get a reason for Czernobog’s curse.
Which Zorya? The one played by Cloris Leachman, and the cynical part of me suspects that was done due to Leachman’s age and the general uncertainty that she may live to the end of the series. I can get that, sort of. In terms of story, Leachman’s portrayal made the character rather sweet, one of the few gods who didn’t come across as weird and hostile, so it gives the scene more of an emotional resonance instead of killing, say, any of the other gods in the diner.
So, bottom line, this felt more like average TV, not necessarily bad, but nothing of the caliber of Mr. Nancy’s first monologue in his first appearance, or how Wednesday got to the new world. There’s a lot of visual craziness to the House on the Rock scenes, enough to make me curious about the actual House on the Rock, but it just feels a little…off. Bryan Fuller in particular had a gift for visuals in his previous shows that is clearly lacking here, but we’ll see where it goes from here all the same.