In the second episode of American Gods, Orlando Jones’s African trickster god Anansi makes an entrance that is literally and figuratively fiery. In the scene, which is set in the 1690s, a Dutch slave ship is en route to America. A slave chained in the hold prays to Anansi. The god, better known as Mr. Nancy, morphs from a spider to a man in a colorful pinstripe suit and gives a show-stopping monologue about what awaits the slaves once they reach the so-called land of opportunity.
“Once upon a time, a man got fucked. That’s the story of Black people in America,” he says. “You are staring down the barrel of 300 years of subjugation. … 100 years after you get free, you still getting fucked out of jobs and shot at by police.” After his speech, he encourages the slaves to fight back and get angry because “anger gets shit done.” Taking his advice, they break free and burn the ship, going down in flames with their would-be owners. In spider form, Mr. Nancy calmly walks away from the carnage.
The scene lasts roughly five minutes, but Jones makes the character dynamic enough to warrant his own show. His monologue is moving and unnerving, smart and evocative, funny and deeply serious. And as it turns out, getting his own show is not unrealistic wistful thinking. Neil Gaiman has a novel Anansi Boys in which the character features far more prominently. Published four years after American Gods, it isn’t a direct spin-off — both books can be read independently — but it takes place in the same world.
In the world of American Gods, Mr. Nancy is an incidental character. Shadow and Wednesday encounter him a handful of times, but his page count isn’t high and his presence is more fun than incendiary. He eats ice cream and tells colorful stories about stealing his enemy Tiger’s balls. He’s known for his story-spinning skills, above all.
In Anansi Boys, his long lost sons learn that he has died onstage at a karaoke bar (because where else would he die?) and they get to know each other over a series of adventures. Although the story is mostly set in England with side jaunts to Florida and the Caribbean, it’s as strange and whimsical as American Gods, featuring flamingo attacks, money laundering schemes, jail time, and appearances by Mr. Nancy’s ghost.
Jones has said, “When Michael [Green] and Bryan [Fuller] had called me and asked me about playing the character and walked me through what they were thinking, part of the discussion at that time was Anansi Boys … If there is a spin-off of any kind, I’d love to do it.”
While nothing official has been announced, it’s a promising sign that the showrunners have already discussed it with Jones.
Just as American Gods is devoting more screen time to side characters like Bilquis, Mad Sweeney, and Laura Moon before her death, an Anansi Boys show could easily feature more of Mr. Nancy.
American Gods is currently airing Sunday nights on Starz.