Each week, Uproxx will be hosting the American Gods Book Club. This is a safe space where readers of Neil Gaiman’s massive novel can come to dissect the changes to the series and debate what will happen next, all without fear they’ll accidentally spoil something for non-readers.
If you thought things would get less weird once the series premiere of American Gods had aired, you must be new to both Neil Gaiman novels and Bryan Fuller television shows. “The Secret of the Spoons” doubles down on a goddess gaining power via consuming sacrifices via her vagina, has Lucille Ball proposition the main character, and gives hamburger lovers everywhere pause as we consider exactly how delicious beef ends up on our plates. What doesn’t change is Starz commitment to not only staying true to the source material, but expanding upon seamlessly.
#1: The introduction of Anansi aka Mr. Nancy
In the book: Mr. Nancy awaits Shadow, Mr. Wednesday, and Czernobog at the ice cream parlor at the House on the Rock. Introductions are made just before the Big Meeting™.
On the show: Orlando Jones gives a monologue that will go down in television history. I completely expect to see “Angry gets shit done,” on merchandise for years to come. Anansi is one of the more fleshed out gods in Neil Gaiman’s universe as he has his own spin-off novel — Anansi Boys — but there’s no amount of reading that can compare to the rage and showmanship in Jones’ performance. Personally, I can’t wait to here him tell the story of his encounter with Tiger.
#2: Bringing gifts
In the book: This straight up doesn’t exist. Mr. Wednesday just shows up where he pleases, with no peace offerings to speak of.
On the show: Adding in the concept of “gifts” works on multiple levels. First, it just feels right. Gods love offerings, therefore gods love presents. Second, it draws out the road to the House on the Rock. Instead of Shadow (Ricky Whittle) meeting the gods en masse, Starz sending Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) on a mission to recruit them individually gives the audience more time to get to know the players in this game. Gaiman has said in interviews that the first season of American Gods doesn’t even get one-third of the way through the novel, which makes me think the finale will involve the Carousel. That leaves a lot of space to fill, and visiting the gods is both an easy and entertaining way to do that while expanding the lore.
#3: The introduction of Media
In the book: Shadow runs into Media in his hotel room after being roughed up by Mr. Town and his associates, Mr. Wood, Mr. Road and Mr. Stone. Media still takes on the form of Lucille Ball and tries to lure Shadow in, but in the privacy of Shadow’s room. The novel also pre-empts Media’s arrival by showing a darker version of The Dick van Dyke show that ends with Rob physically abusing Laura in a drunken rage.
On the show: Played by Gillian Anderson, the genderfluid Media shows up far sooner than their novel counterpart. This makes sense as Media’s role is to be the “Good Cop” to Technical Boy’s “Bad Cop.” As Starz had Technical Boy’s (Bruce Langley) minions beat Shadow right out of the gate instead of upon their second meeting, Media’s honeyed words of reconciliation are needed to smooth things over. Reconfiguring the order of events helps viewers grasp the two sides of the upcoming battle more quickly. It also gives Media more opportunities to sway Shadow to the side of the new gods in the lead-up to the House on the Rock meeting, allowing Anderson to embody multiple icons in entertainment history.
#4: The personalities of the Zorya sisters
In the book: The Zorya sisters play a smaller role in the sequence at their home. Much of the dialogue is given instead to Czernobog, who is not nearly as upset about Mr. Wednesday’s arrival as his television show counterpart is.
On the show: You don’t hire Cloris Leachman and then shunt her into a sider role. Zorya Vechernyaya takes on much of Czernobog’s (Peter Stormare) lines of dialogue from the American Gods novel, sometimes word for word. It is now Zorya Vechernyaya who allows Shadow and Mr. Wednesday to stay by inviting them for dinner. It is Her sister, Zorya Utrennyaya, is now rendered mostly mute in the show yet somehow in her silence actress Martha Kelly makes her character are assertive and independent than her novel counterpart. We’ll have to wait until next week to see what Erika Kaar does with Zorya Polunochnaya.
#5: Checkers and dinner
In the book: The boys play checkers and then eat dinner. I mean, we all know Shadow isn’t going to die at the beginning of the third episode.
On the show: The boys eat dinner and then play checkers. Honestly, I preferred this order to things. By eating first, the tension is allowed to build as Shadow realizes Czernobog is harboring a serious darkness inside of him. Having the characters and the audience sit with a growing sense of unease ratchets up the emotional stakes when Shadow finally agrees to the wager. If dinner had come after checkers in the show, it would’ve felt like filler instead of world-building.
Odds and Ends:
– We get to check back in on Bilquis (Yetide Badaki) and her progress of becoming a powerful goddess once more. Seeing her at the museum, looking at the remnants of culture on display as historical oddities added another layer of melancholy for all these deities have seen…and lost.
– Still no physical Laura Moon. Shadow is dreaming of her, but we’ve yet to see her corpse in action. At this point, I have to wonder if they’re saving the reveal for when Laura rescues her husband from the tender care of Technical Boy’s minions.
– Any guesses as to who Mr. Wednesday was meeting at that diner while Shadow was shopping? We get a glimpse at the character as he leaves, but no name or culture.