American Gods – Ep. 1 “The Bone Orchard” Review

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By Jaclyn Cascio (@jaclynator)
 
Neil Gaiman’s American Gods premiered this past Sunday on Starz. And it was a wild ride. If you’re wondering if it’s worth adding the show to your “watch” list, read on for a (spoiler-free) review of this week’s episode and then decide for yourself!
 
As an author, Neil Gaiman has a captivating way of telling fantasy stories in matter-of-fact fashion. He takes the outlandish and ridiculous, mixes it with the real world, and makes you think, “Well, of course that’s how it is!” The television show promises no less with its first episode, “The Bone Orchard.” Artfully subtle in introducing religious themes and magic, the audience is privileged to learn about (and get lost in) the unknowns of the world alongside the lead character, Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle). And it’s easy to see in the first episode that only the tip of the iceberg has been touched upon. There is a rich mythological world to delve into, and there’s no telling where the exploration will lead!
 
American Gods requires not only a unique mix of absurdity, mythos, subtlety, and believable character development (even if characters themselves aren’t quite realistic), but also artful visual aesthetics to bring it all together. Bryan Fuller (Hannibal) proved that he and the team (such as this episode’s director David Slade) were up to the task in bringing Gaiman’s story to life. While some shows may have interesting stories or characters, there are few that have such distinct atmospheres. We’ve seen it more recently in shows by Noah Hawley (like Fargo or Legion), but Fuller proved himself with Hannibal, and American Gods is no less visceral in feeling. Honestly, with what appeared to be gallons of blood flying about in various scenes in “The Bone Orchard,” (you’ve been warned) it still somehow managed to look stylized and fantastic. Disturbingly beautiful, really. Add to that a wacky gator bar, a digital limo, and a scene that felt like an homage to “A Clockwork Orange” and you’ve got the makings of something wonderful and worth watching for seven more episodes of the season!
 
Speaking of subtlety, the writing of “The Bone Orchard” was clever, cunningly teasing the hidden identities of characters introduced in the first episode. If you’ve read the book, you don’t need the clues, but were likely to pick up on them. (They were laid on thick for Mr. Wednesday.) However, if American Gods is a totally new experience, those clues might have been lost on the banter of character interactions. It speaks to the expert story-telling of the script writers and their ability to provide such foreshadowing without actually giving anything away! And when you figure it out, you’ll likely have a face-palm “d’oh!” moment that will make you appreciate the story all the more!
 
With people not always being what they seem, it is important to get casting right. It is readily apparent in “The Bone Orchard” that the casting is absolutely perfect. Ricky Whittle plays Shadow Moon, an ex-con whose life has pretty much fallen apart. He serves as a gateway into the unknown and invites sympathy from the viewer as he tries to stay afloat amidst trying situations. Whittle manages to play a gentle giant who gives the impression that he is, at the very least, thinking more than he’s speaking. He’s likable, with just the right amount of brooding anger beneath the surface to make him unpredictable and a little exciting!
 
Meanwhile, Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday steals the show. A con man on the surface and unknown intentions below, he is the main source of mystery. And McShane just feels right for the role! He slyly tells Shadow who he is without actually saying anything, just like a slick conniver would.
 
Bilquis, played by Yetide Badaki, is gorgeous and seductive, and incredibly pulls off a scene that no reader ever realistically expected to see on the screen. What could have been clumsy and awkward somehow came off sensual and powerful. Pablo Schreiber as Mad Sweeney was darkly fun and gleefully menacing, just the kind of Irishman you would expect to see rolling with Wednesday at an odd gator bar somewhere in America. Additionally, Tech Boy (Bruce Langley) is the epitome of the stereotypical, technology obsessed millennial of modern day. Overall, they provide just a taste of talented supporting cast we have to look forward to in coming episodes.
 
As a fan of the 2001 book by Gaiman, I was not disappointed by the first episode of American Gods. “The Bone Orchard” beautifully carried out what readers have only imagined before. Even fresh viewers who are new to the story will walk away from the excellent cliffhanger ending of the first episode intrigued and invested in the journey of the characters they met. With a unique flavor you won’t soon forget, “The Bone Orchard” began the journey of the first season of American Gods with style and panache!
 
The show airs every Sunday at 9pm on Starz.
 


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