Neil Gaiman and Bryan Fuller’s American Gods hasn’t even aired yet, and it’s already the best show on TV. This might sound hyperbolic, but Gillian Anderson — the queen of The X-Files, The Fall, Hannibal and probably your heart, regardless of your sexuality — has just joined the cast. To those familiar with the novel, she will be playing the God of Media. Let’s consider the other facts about why American Gods is already unfair to every other show on TV.
Anderson joins a cast that already boasts Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday, The 100’s Ricky Whittle as taciturn ex-con Shadow, the unfairly maligned Series of Unfortunate Events’s Emily Browning as his mostly-dead wife (if you haven’t read the book, don’t ask) and professional gloriously sneering bad-guy Peter Stormare as Czernobog.
For a beloved book like American Gods, it’s rare to satisfy readers — and I admit my mental image of Shadow was initially different — but it’s as if the casting directions reached into our minds and pulled everyone out.
Bryan Fuller wrote Hannibal which would already give the writing the cred it needs. But Neil Gaiman will also be involved, and his novel is not only weird and whimsical, it’s brimming with beautiful prose like this:
“I believe that all politicians are unprincipled crooks and I still believe that they are better than the alternative. I believe that candy really did taste better when I was a kid, that it’s aerodynamically impossible for a bumble bee to fly, that light is a wave and a particle, that there’s a cat in a box somewhere who’s alive and dead at the same time (although if they don’t ever open the box to feed it it’ll eventually just be two different kinds of dead) … I believe in a personal god who cares about me and worries and oversees everything I do. I believe in an impersonal god who set the universe in motion and went off to hang with her girlfriends and doesnt even know that I’m alive. I believe in an empty and godless universe of causal chaos, background noise, and sheer blind luck. I believe that anyone who says sex is overrated just hasn’t done it properly. I believe that anyone who claims to know what’s going on will lie about the little things too. I believe in absolute honesty and sensible social lies. I believe in a woman’s right to choose, a baby’s right to live, that while all human life is sacred there’s nothing wrong with the death penalty if you can trust the legal system implicitly, and that no one but a moron would ever trust the legal system. I believe that life is a game, that life is a cruel joke, and that life is what happens when you’re alive and that you might as well lie back and enjoy it.”
Other shows based on books suffer when the prose is too verbose (looking at you, Game of Thrones) or the premise is underdeveloped (Season 1 of The Leftovers) or the concepts are outdated (hello, spanking scene in Outlander) but American Gods is already an iron-tight novel.
Main character Shadow is an unspecified racial mix. Throughout the story, other characters are constantly wondering what his background is. This is what Bryan Fuller said about possibly casting a white guy as Shadow:
In our conversations about who our ideals are for specific roles, Shadow is described as… is he a gypsy? Is he Hispanic? Is he black? Or is he all of those things in one? So we know that he is not white! I think if we cast a white man to play Shadow we would be the biggest assholes on television.
Other main characters like Bilquis will also be people who are not white. Fantasy shows have the liberty of casting anyone they want — after all, they take place in made-up worlds — and yet so many have casts that look more like they’re an L.L. Bean convention than an awesome fantastical world. Not American Gods.
Starz isn’t talked about as much as HBO or Showtime, but it’s actually kicking both their asses at the moment. It’s got some of the most innovative and epic shows on TV, like the masterpiece that is Black Sails, the female-gaze heavy Outlander, and The Girlfriend Experience. So although you might raise your eyebrows to hear this show will be on Starz, this is a very, very good thing. It’s come a long way since Spartacus.
It’s almost unfair to every other show on TV how good American Gods will be. But then again, we’re hardly complaining. The show will debut in 2017.