Welcome to tvDownload’s first official(ly named) “Talk Back” recap for the premiere of American Gods: Bryan Fuller’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel for Starz. For those familiar with how we run our Sunday Night prestige TV game, this is continuing with our tradition of picking one show a season for Observer’s Art & Entertainment editors Drew Grant and Vinnie Mancuso to review jointly. Previously: 11.22.63, The Young Pope, The Affair, Game of Thrones.
Vinnie: Drew, I choose to believe our days spent discussing the holy baby-dropping enigma that was The Young Pope made us uniquely qualified to recap THIS show; now we not only get to make jokes about capital-g God, but ALL the gods, the new ones and the old.
Drew: Yeah we are straight polytheistic up in here! All gods, young and old, all are welcome on the shores of our fine land…wait, oh….
*watches opening sequence*
Yeah, these gods don’t seem like the fun-loving single-dad upstairs from a radiator repair place that we’ve all come to know and love. These gods are more the type responsible for blood sacrifices and I’m assuming the movie Cabin the Woods.
Vinnie: Now, I’ll admit I was hesitant when word first broke that there would be an American Gods TV series…not that the book is the my favorite, per se. It’s young Neil Gaiman, unburdened by the 22-page limit of a Sandman issue, when he still had a tendency to stall the story out for like, 400 pages at a time to describe how cold someone’s apartment was but it was okay because it was a metaphor. But it’s still a mighty complex story, with multiple interludes and overlapping vignettes and oh right that one thing where a goddess eats a man with her vagina. I thought for years this was just a thing that would remain, dare I say, unfilmable. Fuck me, right?
Drew: Here’s a cute bon-mot: I, unlike you, had zero qualms about American Gods, because I love Fuller and I trust him with my pop culture sanity. But also the cast list is INSANE, and knowing the director, there was a good chance there’d be some elaborate, grotesque art to serve as set design. So when I saw Bilquis (Yetide Badaki) show up on this dude’s Tinder date, I knew what was coming. And still….HOLY SHIT! That is some like, vore porn!!
Right before I left New York, I had lunch with some Starz publicists. And the entire time, they were asking me if the show lived up to my memory of the book, and if there were any “explicit” parts that seemed over the top, and I was like “nah nah, that vagina God was DEFINITELY in the book. You made the right call, keeping the Vagina Monster on this show.”
Honestly, I don’t even feel that bad for her “down there snack”: he didn’t seem like he had a lot going on his life. He’ll probably be happier starting a weekly poker club inside Bilquis’ ovaries or something.
Vinnie: I should’ve known to trust Bryan Fuller–the dude who turned Hannibal into a weekly art project for serial killers/the best man-on-man cannibal fanfic in history–and Michael Green, one of the guys behind Logan, a movie about superheroes that also made me weep like a small child. Holy Ian McShane’s wrinkled face, Drew, this SHOW. It’s like the strangest, most overwhelming visual endurance test for how much you want your TV shows to fuck you right up. Beginning, of course, with that bonkers-as-balls “Coming to America” introduction, which doubles as an origin story for the concept of Shirts vs. Skins.
Drew: See, I wasn’t that into this little origin tale, only because I’d love to see more of how the Native Americans just slaughtered the shit out of some Vikings because they had about one million more gods. (Is that even true? Vikings had a lot of gods as well. Someone fact-check this, please!) I’m sure this kind of ultra-violence turns some viewers on, but for me I was like “If I wanted to see the Battle of the Basterds set on shoreline property I would rent a Bungalow in Santa Monica and tell everyone I was hosting a Del Close marathon.”
Vinnie: Flash-forward just a littttttle bit, like a couple hundred decades past the point where Viking hordes were bringing their war gods to America via bro-slaughter (aka when things made sense), and we meet Shadow Moon, an ex-con whose chrome-domed head the universe seems to love taking constant dumps upon. His wife, Laura Moon, dies four days before he is released from prison (cause of death: Dane Cook’s penis. A tale as old as time), into an unfamiliar world where he has no job, no money, and no one to appreciate how dope of a name Shadow Moon is.
Shadow processes this by screaming into some awe-inspiring landscapes in the middle of bumfuck nowhere America, as one does.
Drew: Now, there’s a Clive Barker story Cabal that I swear to god that’s exactly like American Gods (minus the Gods part). Well, it’s kind of also like Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. Wait, are Clive Barker and Neil Gaiman the same dude? In Cabal, the dude’s name is Boone, not Shadow, but he is ALSO murdered very early on before getting up, brushing himself off and continuing his adventures…which is seemingly what Shadow does after getting hung by a tree by some metaphoric embodiment of fiber optic cables.
Vinnie: Let’s talk about Wednesday, the one-eyed conman who offers Shadow a job across the aisle in first class. I kind of love how Ian McShane, real life god of tits and dragons, is playing the role as “What if Al Pacino was your uncle and he showed up to your Bar Mitzvah drunk on screwdrivers?” He’s perfect, is what I’m saying, just the right mixture of untrustworthy, charming and manipulative. I will remember that incredible speech about faith vs. Newton the next time I have a mid-flight panic attack while trying to watch Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, which is something that 100 percent happened to me IRL.
Drew: Thanks for stealing my Pacino line, Vinnie. Pacino was MY comparison! But especially Pacino circa the era of Scent Like a Woman and The Devil’s Advocate. Speaking of which, here is another chance for me to make you watch Pacino railing against just one god in the most intense way possible.
Please, all the Gods listening, if you could get Mr. Wednesday to do an allusion to this speech at some point, I pledge to cut off at least one of Vinnie’s typing arms.
Vinnie: As for who Mr. Wednesday actually is? I suppose no *spoilers* here, but if you’re that curious literally just Google “which god liked Wednesdays?” Gaiman wasn’t going for subtly back then, folks. Wait until you find out what Shadow’s prison friend’s nickname is. My only wish here is that Shadow and Wednesday met on a Monday so Ian McShane could’ve been like “Mondays are NOT my day” and in the end it turns out he was Grumpy Cat the whole time or something.
Drew: You mean that would make him the O.G. Grumpy Cat, Garfield. (Unless Grumpy Cat/Aubrey Plaza also hates Mondays?) Also, I have this tendency to jump the gun when I’m excited about something, and I just realized that neither the God of the Internet (or whoever that pipsqueak was) nor Shadow’s prison buddy was played by Crispin Glover. I know Marty McFly’s dad is going to be in the show, the same way I knew Pornstache was going to be there getting into fights inside what appears to be a bar living inside a crocodile’s mouth. (It’s like some of kind of weird visual example of drunken symbiosis.) Or how I know Gillian Anderson will show up: I read the damn press releases.
But that’s such a double-edged sword because then I spend the entire first-run of any show being distracted by trying to guess where the celebrity cameo is going to happen.
Just to clarify: Crispin Glover will show up on American Gods…eventually. And in the meantime, they’ve found at least two guys–Shadow’s prison partner and ‘Technical Boy’ (Bruce Langley)–who both look like mashups of Glover and DJ Qualls, which is just impressive in its own right.
Vinnie: I guess that scene with Bilquis is going to be a “thing” now, isn’t it? I remember the moment American Gods was announced everyone was like “they’re not gonna’ do the vagina eating scene” and then Fuller, Green and director David Slade were like ‘uhhh, hold my mead’ then straight up used filmmaking wizardry to have a pudgy man get sucked into a woman’s body. Nothing is unfilmable anymore. Ball is in your court, orgy scene from IT.
Drew: Dude, the thing about Bilquis isn’t that we’re going to have to worry about her kickstarting some new kinky fetish that your girlfriend will start demanding (hopefully with the requisite Fat Bastard accent): it’s that her shit is already a thing. I mean, check out the weirdly long and precisely accurate definition of vore from Urban Dictionary:
Short for “voraphilia” or “vorarephilia”: a fetish in which one fantasizes about being eaten alive or eating another creature alive (sometimes known as phagophilia). The most common type of vore is “soft vore”, being swallowed or swallowing whole with no bloodshed. There is also the less common “hard vore” which involves the tearing and chewing of flesh. Other types of vore include macrophilia and microphilia, in which one character involved in the vore is larger or smaller than normal. Many might associate vore with cannibalism; however, most voraphiles do not favor cannibalism. Vore is an imaginary fetish; that is, it is impossible to perform in real life in the way most fantasize, unlike most cannibalism. Also included with vore is sometimes the “furry” community: people who are interested in usually anthromorphic animals (humanized creatures). With animals as characters in vore fantasies, predation is natural and therefore somewhat more realistic.
And while I can’t name-drop a bunch of other instances in various religions where gods consumed mortals, there is this Onion headline from 2013 that was a harbinger of the fad to come.
Vinnie: Who know Pornstache from Orange is the New Black would make such a great leprechaun?
Drew: ME! I knew that! But only because *achem*…I used to get invited to these cool New York Cinema Society screenings and Pablo was hanging around that scene for a bit, and his go-to move was to sneak up right up behind me when I was talking to a group, lean down to my ear (cuz dude is REALLY tall) and bellow “DREW! ENUNCIATE!”
I appreciated his trickster spirit, especially since it never failed to get me screaming like Lucille Bluth discovering Gene Parmesan.
So yes, I knew he had that impish side to him, but it’s also just so great that in the world of American Gods, Charlie Kelly would actually be king.
Vinnie: Mad Sweeney’s introduction, with that jaunty as hell soundtrack this show has going on, along with the bar room brawl in which Pablo Schreiber and Ricky Whittle said fuck it and just beat the shit out of each other for real in the name of PRESTIGE TV, was my favorite part of this episode. David Slade, who also directed the best/final Hannibal episode “Mizumono,” is a master at making brutal violence so oddly, satisfyingly fun. I’m pretty sure I’m going to scream “Now you’re fighting for the joy of it! For the sheer unholy fucking delight of it!” the next time, like, someone tries to get in the same cab as me.
Drew: I’m pretty sure that’s what I’m going to start screaming the next time one of my dates tries to crawl inside my special place.
Vinnie: Man, that scene where Robbie’s wife Audrey tries to blow Shadow a couple feet away from both their spouses’ graves was some Twin Peaks, Leland Palmer jumping on to his daughter’s coffin levels of devastatingly sad oh god why am I laughing though? I hope we get way more Betty Gilpin, who might have the line of the episode with “I’m trying to get my dignity back here” as she drunkenly tries to have her way with her dead husband’s former best friend in a graveyard. Been there, lady. Been very specifically there.
Drew: Dude, I’m such an Audrey. You know, for every show that I get obsessed with, I immediately start finding ways to do a version of that Sex and the City game with my friends. Big Little Lies? I’m a such a Renata. Mystery Science Theatre 3000? I mean, I THINK of myself as a Crow-type, but I might actually be more of a Kinga Forrester, considering how often I force people to sit down and watch shitty movies with me.
In American Gods, I’m Audrey. (Ironically, in Twin Peaks, I’m also Audrey!) “Don’t listen to me, Shadow. I lost count of how many Klonopins I’ve taken today.”
Yeah, that’s patented Blurf For Tom all over again, Vinnie. I hope my doppleganger makes a return later on, hopefully over her Dane Cook husband and the case of his missing penis. (Though Jesus Christ, Audrey. Wanting to sew up your cheating husband’s penis inside your best friend’s mouth directly after their deaths? That’s more of an Ambien flight-of-fancy than a Klonopin side effect.)
Vinnie: By far the most topical aspect of American Gods in 2017 is the fact the antagonists are a bunch of Apple Store inspired techno-gods that we as a species gave power to by jerking off on iPhones too often, among many other things, and that these gods often come in the form of some vaping Bushwick-ass hipsters who still spam the word “fuck” because they’re used to communicating exclusively via Reddit forums.
Drew: So the most topical aspect, in 2017, of a show whereby fallible gods wreak havoc over the life of mortals because they’re a bunch of egotistical monster babies, for you Vinnie…is the annoying hipsters? Did we change the header photo of Observer.com again without telling me??
Vinnie: …That was a long-winded way of saying gap-toothed British actor Bruce Langley makes for a fantastic Technical Boy. I’m pretty sure the lines “Language is a virus, religion an operating system, prayers are just so much fucking spam” is lifted word-for-word from the book and SHOULD sound awkward as dialogue, but it works within the batshit synthetic-toad skin aesthetic this show has developed for itself within just one episode.
Drew: “Language is a virus” was actually first conceived in William S. Burroughs’ The Ticket That Exploded and later adapted into an amazing Laurie Anderson song that sounds a LOT like something Technical Boy would groove to. Especially since he may have borrowed her background dancers as muscle.
Also, “language is a virus” is the underlying theme of Tony Burgess’ novel Pontypool Changes Everything as well as its cinematic adaptation, Pontypool. (Which was on Netflix and you should totes check out.)
Vinnie: I loved this sucked-into-a-Nintendo-Switch version of Technical Boy’s limo; I was about everything in this final scene, honestly. The Windows 98 glitching, the frenetic cuts, the fact that this team managed to make a near-lynching by faceless monster-children into one of the most gorgeous visuals I’ve seen in a looooong while.
Drew: This pilot was the best I’ve seen in awhile for a couple reasons:
- Using the framework of a long-distance road-trip comedy across weird Americana is A+, since that’s what American Gods ultimately is: a supernatural The Trip, minus the dueling Michael Caine impressions.
- The best casting imaginable. As my sister pointed out while watching the pilot, they cast as Shadow’s dead wife Emily Browning, aka the original Violet Baudelaire from the 2004 Lemony Snicket movie. I mean, not to give extra credit to Fuller when I may just going down a Yellow King rabbit hole here, but perhaps we’re supposed to make a parallel between Shadow’s struggles and a series of unfortunate events. Which would also work as the title for this project, too.
- As much as I LOVE Mad Mikkelsen, how nice is it to have Fuller give his best rambly, poetic speeches to an actor who I don’t need to turn on subtitles in order to understand what he’s saying?
- That alligator mouth bar, though. For real.
Can’t wait till next week!