Good gods: Divine 'American Gods' gets down and deity

Ian McShane, Bryan Fuller and Neil Gaiman unite for a divine blast of blood-soaked blasphemy in this new drama from Starz and Amazon.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
Expertise Films, TV, Movies, Television, Technology
Richard Trenholm
3 min read
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Ian McShane and Ricky Whittle lead the heavenly cast of "American Gods".

Jan Thijs/Starz Entertainment

If you're looking for your next sumptuous, cinematic and sexy TV show to worship, your prayers are answered. "American Gods" is a divine tale of godheads and bloodshed that deserves an army of converts.

Ex-con and ex-con man Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) is out of jail and out on the road. Unfortunately he's heading for his wife's funeral. On his way to the grave, Shadow runs into double-talking Mr Wednesday (Ian McShane, having a ball). Wednesday needs an enforcer, and so begins Shadow's journey into an American underworld of odd folk who may or may not be deities.

Watch this: New fantasy thriller 'American Gods' trailer released

We're introduced to the gods of the old world through opening scenes that show Vikings, slaves and other newcomers arriving in America. A couple of centuries down the line, modern distractions replace old world beliefs, setting the scene for a holy war between down-at-heel divinities of the old world and pitiless postmodern gods of the new age, played by the likes of Peter Stormare, Orlando Jones and Gillian Anderson.

And meanwhile, there's (after)life in Shadow's marriage yet, as we haven't seen the last of his wife Laura (Emily Browning)...

The shepherds of this venerable flock are showrunners Bryan Fuller, the master chef who whipped up "Hannibal"; and Michael Green, co-writer of "Logan". If you enjoyed the blood-soaked aspects of those previous works you won't be disappointed by "American Gods". The premiere episode baptises the country yet to be called America with beached Vikings cleaving each other into a jaw-dropping cacophony of cartwheeling limbs and crimson fountains. It culminates in a Grand-Guignol-lynching in a field of eviscerated corpses. Yes, "American Gods" is a story of America written in blood. Gallons of the stuff.

Despite the exsanguinary excesses of some scenes, the most shocking sequence deals with sex rather than violence. The gods demand worship in different ways, and the goddess Bilquis (Yetide Badaki) draws her power from lust. Her first sumptuous and sinister seduction is a scene that's sure to melt a hole in social media the second people lay eyes on it.

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Seductive goddess Bilquis (Yetide Badaki) makes her entrance in what's sure to be one of the most talked-about scenes of the year.

Jan Thijs/Starz Entertainment

"American Gods" is based on a Neil Gaiman novel, but you don't have to be a devoted disciple of Gaiman's -- or Fuller's -- earlier work to find your prayers answered. Aside from the performances, the show looks beautiful. Drenched in high-contrast colour, the show moves from the vast, wide open skies of the American landscape to the roadkill-strewn freeways and sickly motels of small-town Americana, giving the country an ominously otherworldly feel.

Have faith: "American Gods" is a blasphemous blast, packed with con tricks and coin tricks, magic and mayhem, sex and symbolism. Even when it wanders off the point, it does so with a sly sense of fun. It's dark, funny, sexy, cinematic, ludicrous, clever and memorable stuff.

Amen to that.

"American Gods" preaches to the perverted on Starz in the US from April 30 and Amazon Prime in the UK from May 1. Australian air dates have yet to be announced.

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