American Gods Compared to the Book So Far (Episodes 1-5)

American Gods - Season 1

It’s upon writing this that I realize we’re a little over half way through the first season.  After Game of Thrones set the standard for book adaptations with a breakneck pace through its source content, I’m startled at how casually they’re moving in American Gods. We’re five out of eight episodes in, and haven’t covered even a third of the book yet. This is not a bad thing.

The first few episodes were practically page-to-screen adaptations, right down to the dialogue. Occasionally, this didn’t work so well, particularly in the first episode. Neil Gaiman writes sprawling, storytelling dialogue. To fit this into a typical scene on television, Wednesday talked so fast I barely grasped what he was saying. My non-reader boyfriend was spinning trying to keep up, and I had to translate based on my recent re-read. Luckily, it appears this was only a symptom of the first episode, as they’ve toned the ranting down considerably in following episodes.

Since Laura’s big reveal, they’ve diverged quite a bit from the books. Some for the better, some for the worse.

The New Gods Really Are Stealing the Show, and Media is Giving Me Life

There’s no wonder Odin is pissed off – the New Gods are so much more interesting than the Old. Honestly, I’ve never known who half the people Shadow ran into were. Polunochna-who?

But gods of media, globalism, and technology? Fuck yes. I can wrap my head around that. The idea of modern obsessions actually having gods attached to them is what drew me to the novel in the first place, and I always wanted more than what Gaiman gave to me. Hell, I would love an alternate novel told from their point of view.

The show grasps the appeal, and features them prominently. I suppose you can’t contract big name actors for one episode a season, and I’m grateful for that.

Techno Boy is every bit as bratty and ridiculous as expected, and I love that they’ve made him a vape-bro. I didn’t have much in the way of expectations for Mister Town, because he didn’t really show up until the end of the novel. They’ve brought him into the show before Shadow even reaches Lakeside, and he is chilling. Seriously. Crispin Glover is a joy to watch, in the way that you enjoy watching a raving hobo harass someone across the street but you’d never want to actually talk to him yourself.

Doesn't that sound swell?

And Media. Media! MEDIA. IS. EVERYTHING.

Gillian Anderson absolutely slays this role. Holy shit. Media was my favorite God in the book, and they are doing her so much justice I can’t even take it. So far, she’s appeared as Lucille Ricardo, Marilyn Monroe, and David fucking Bowie. David Bowie! Gillian slips into their skins and embodies them in that glorified way the media does. I want to see her in every episode. I just can’t get enough.

Will they feature some original New Gods for the show? Imagine the possibilities! A god of fitness? Vaping? MMORPG’s? Kill off the Old Gods, I’m on team New!

Laura Moon Got a Backstory and I Hate Her

A lot of people are lauding the Laura episode for fleshing out her character and improving on Gaiman’s source material. I, uh, disagree. This is my largest disappointment in the show.

Okay, sure. Laura wasn’t a very deep character in the book. She was there to occasionally faun over Shadow, and inexplicably wreck some fools. She was a mostly devoted wife who happened to make a terrible mistake. While she wasn’t remarkable, I liked her. The lack of any real specifics allowed me to imagine a Laura of my own. One that I liked, and could feel Shadow’s pain for losing.

For the show, they gave her an entire episode of backstory. Laura works as a casino dealer and hates life. So much so that she suffocates herself with bug spray under a hot tub cover. Does finding love in Shadow spark some life into her? Nope, she hates him too. Sex induces eye-rolls until she can get him to slap her around a bit. She still eyeballs her can of bug spray like it’s a vibrator. Selfishly, she goads Shadow into robbing the casino to give a little life to her bleak existence – landing him in prison. Losing her husband doesn’t seem to have much of an effect on her, either – she deadpans in her usual manner, miserable as ever.

Laura Moon, pleasant as ever

I loathe her. Yes, she’s a kind of developed character now. But development doesn’t have to equal angst, and there doesn’t seem to be any reason for her to be so miserable. What were they trying to accomplish by making her so unlikable? They robbed her death of shock, tragedy, and made it a blessing. This is what she always wanted, isn’t it? And Shadow just seems like a fool for not seeing it coming.

I just can’t get behind it.

Like the New Gods, they’re featuring Laura a lot more than the novel did. While I’m dreading this, I will wait it out. My biggest problem with show Laura is she lacked any sort of agency in her life. Idly, she allowed whatever befell her: a shitty job, the first guy to show interest in her, an affair, the town she happened to grow up in. Perhaps the writers intend to take her on a path of redemption in her adventures with Mad Sweeney.

Take Me Somewhere in America…

I cannot express enough how beautiful this show is, and nothing showcases that more beautifully than the Somewhere in America… segments. The anecdotes of how each god arrived in America are adapted faithfully and with flair. In the most recent episode, they showed one of the first arrivals across the land bridge. It’s a prehistoric story of a god ultimately forgotten, so long ago that it’s practically detached from time. To fully convey the ancient and surreal nature of the story, they animated it in a style almost like claymation.

Somewhere in America

My favorite from the novel, a story about a salesman and an Ifrit, was adapted so beautifully it the news for its honest and intimate portrayal of gay sex. It was not fetishized, or dressed up with porn-like actors. Unabashedly, it showed how beautiful it can be. Another tale of an old woman dying in her kitchen brought tears to my eyes. When you see the words, Somewhere in America, you know you’re in for a real treat.

I’m really enjoying American Gods. In many ways, I like it even better than the book. As much as I hate what they’ve done with Laura, she’s promising more time with Mad Sweeney. And for that, I’ll deal.

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