When a beloved novel is turned into a television show, the common hope from fans is that the adaptation will be as true to the source material as possible, down to the very letter. But the television adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods will stand apart from its predecessors in that area.
We already know several changes in the book to show transformation, and they are causes for rejoicing rather than fan angst.
American Gods was published in 2001. Culture does not stay stagnant in a decade; neither should a story so deeply rooted in it. We will most likely see this in many aspects of the show, but there are already two prominent characters who exemplify it: Mad Sweeney and Technical Boy.
The leprechaun Mad Sweeney, who will be played by Pablo Schreiber, has a trucker-trash aesthetic in the book. As it was published in the height of the trucker hat’s pop culture heyday — harken back to the days of Ashton Kutcher’s Punk’d this made perfect sense for Gaiman to convey Mad Sweeney’s personality. Today’s equivalent is the hipster-trash aesthetic, which is precisely what the show has done.
Similarly, the book’s version of Technical Boy is rooted in Matrix era techie signifiers: pimples and an obsession with the internet. The show’s version, played by Bruce Langley, is more in line with an exaggerated version of today’s millennial stereotype. He’s got a Bieber-esque haircut, designer sneakers, and the inside of his limo has a pale light reminisent of the glow of Apple products.
In diverging from the book, these characters are more closely sticking to its spirit than if the show tried to replicate outdated trends.
Increased roles for side characters
As per showrunner Bryan Fuller’s comments that he aims to develop an expansive universe in a similar vein as Marvel, many of the gods who get a single chapter in the novel will get expanded roles in the show. We already know this about Mad Sweeney, who will go on his own road trip with Shadow’s dead wife Laura, according to Schreiber. Expect Bilquis and Gillian Anderson’s Media to feature more prominently than they do in the book as well.
As their appearances on the page were brief but memorable, this can only be a good sign for the show.
The post-script is more important
The show has cast Jeremy Davis as Jesus, which might confuse some fans as he isn’t actually in the novel. He only appears in the post-script of the “author’s preferred text” version. The show is therefore presenting itself as the book’s expanded universe right at the start, which will give it more room to breathe in the future. It’s a very good sign that American Gods won’t run out of steam after a season or two if it’s already setting up tangential characters for future significance. Every successful book-to-show adaptation knows the importance of reading between the lines.
Plus, we’ll get to see this lovely bit of dialogue from Jesus and Shadow’s meeting:
Have you thought about what it means to be a god? It means you give up your mortal existence to become a meme: something that lives forever in people’s minds like the tune of a nursery rhyme. It means that everyone gets to re-create you in their own minds. You barely have your own identity anymore. Instead, you’re a thousand aspects of what people need you to be. And everyone wants something different from you. Nothing is fixed, nothing is stable.
According to showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green, the show will cover the first third of the book and stop at the House on the Rock. Although Gaiman’s book is a dazzling ride, even hardcore fans can admit it’s jampacked with so many ideas, it would have been nice to linger in some for a bit along the way.
The show’s compressed timeline will offer up an exciting pace, and that’s something we can bow down to in worship … aside from Ian McShane, of course.
American Gods will air on Starz in 2017.