DirectorDavid Slade, Various, Executive Producers: Bryan Fuller & Michael Green
Release Date(s)2017 (October 17, 2017)
Studio(s)Freemantle Media/Living Dead Guy (Starz/Lionsgate)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A
Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman, Starz’ American Gods is a genre-bending television experience. Its protagonist is Shadow Moon (played by Ricky Whittle), a man sleep-walking through his life after an early release from prison due to the fact that his wife has just died. It turns out that said wife, Laura (Emily Browning), was killed in a car crash while giving a blowjob to his best friend. Now Shadow is free but without purpose… until he meets the mysterious Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane, of Deadwood fame), the modern representation of the old Norse god Odin. With no fucks left to give, Shadow becomes Wednesday’s right hand man through a coin toss, joining the latter on a road trip quest to restore his glory in a war between the old gods and the new for the soul of America. But this particular road is more fraught with peril that Shadow can imagine, for it turns out that Laura, thanks to the same magical coin, isn’t quite dead yet and would like a word with him. And a host of other gods, both ancient and modern but all of them dangerous, have business with Shadow too.
Produced by Bryan Fuller (Hannibal, Pushing Daisies, and all-too briefly Star Trek: Discovery) and Michael Green, American Gods is breaking just about every rule of television there is at the moment, daring even amid what many believe is a new Golden Age for the medium. It moves at a literary pace, offers an aggressive and hyper-realistic visual style, and is very forward with violence, nudity, and explicit sex. Its supporting cast is extraordinary for TV, including the likes of Crispin Glover, Gillian Anderson, Cloris Leachman, Peter Stomare, Orlando Jones, Corbin Bernsen, and Kristin Chenoweth to name but a few, all of whom tear up the screen in unique roles. If you’re a fan of the novel, this first season covers only a third of its story (right up to the point where the characters reach The House on the Rock) and several characters and story threads from the book have been expanded. Like the book, the series is a fascinating blend of contemporary drama, science fiction, and fantasy, examining the changing times, our modern worship of consumerism and technology, themes of religion and belief, even America’s unique cultural melting pot identity. It is certainly one of the most interesting things on TV.
Lionsgate’s Blu-ray release is a 3-disc set offering all 8 first season episodes in 1080p HD at the original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The video is gorgeous, with highly-stylized imagery, bold colors, and strong contrasts in light and shadow (with deep blacks). Detail and texturing play an important role in the visuals here and both are excellent. Grain texture is light but adds a nicely cinematic aspect. Watching this video, as good as it is, one wonders how a 4K presentation might look with added high dynamic range – this show would be perfect for that format. Audio is included in an incredibly full, smooth, and atmospheric English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD mix that features excellent clarity and immersiveness. Optional subtitles are available in English SDH and Spanish. This is a fine A/V presentation for a strikingly visual series.
In terms of special features, this set would merit top marks even if it only included the excellent and feature-length The Road to American Gods documentary, produced by our old friend Cliff Stephenson. But you get that and more, all of it in HD. The full list includes:
- Audio Commentary on The Bone Orchard with Bryan Fuller, Michael Green, and David Slade
- Audio Commentary on The Bone Orchard with Ricky Whittle and Ian McShane
- American Gods: Origins (15:40)
- Old Gods (7:43)
- New Gods (5:28)
- What Is American Gods? (4:56)
- Book vs. Show (4:29)
- Explore the Crocodile Bar in 360 Degrees (with commentary – 5:38)
- Title Gods (7:39)
- Ep 108 “God Squad” Video Commentary (60:07)
- The Road to American Gods documentary (in 8 parts – 146:32 in all)
All of this material is good, particularly the audio commentaries, the American Gods: Origins featurette, and the feature-length documentary. Every key member of the cast and crew contributes, including and especially Neil Gaiman himself. If you’re a fan of the original novel and this series, every bit of this content is interesting and worth your time. The icing is that you also get a paper insert with a Digital Copy code.
American Gods is extraordinary TV for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I’m not even sure if I love it or not. What I do know is that it’s challenging, fascinating, and compelling as hell. I can’t take my eyes off it... and that is no small thing. This show certainly isn’t for everyone, but if you’re willing to hop in the car for a damn strange road trip, it’s well worth the ride.
- Bill Hunt