Will we have the patience for American Gods?

07.26.16 1 year ago

Clip It: Each day, Jon Davis looks at the world of trailers, featurettes and clips and puts it all in perspective.

I tried to read the book American Gods two times. So much time elapsed between attempts that I had to start over from the beginning. The first time I got to page 80, the second time I made it to about page 180. It obviously didn't hold my interest. Which is odd because I'm a huge fan of writer Neil Gaiman, having read every comic he's ever written, the entire run of Sandman multiple times, etc. But I still couldn't make it through his novel. American Gods is known for picking up steam after a slow start, but I still couldn't muster the patience for it even though it was written by one of my favorite authors.

Being semi-familiar with the material, I recognized many aspects of the book in the trailer: the coin tricks, the strong, silent protagonist and the menagerie of weirdos he meets on his road trip. And much like the novel, it starts off with a decent hook. A prison inmate named Shadow is a let out a couple days early to attend his deceased wife's funeral. He meets a guy named Wednesday, who gives him a mission, and then stuff happens. That “stuff happens” part is when I checked out. We meet lots of people who we are to assume are gods, specific to American culture and history as observed by British born Neil Gaiman. And yet, I can't say it compelled me. The world of the book expanded before I grew to care about the characters, and it felt overly stuffed. 

The people behind the TV version are super talented. Bryan Fuller is the show runner, and he was last seen killing it on Hannibal (he's also writing the upcoming Star Trek Discovery series). The other major screenwriter, Michael Green, created and ran the underrated Kings starring Ian McShane. Green also worked on Heroes during its first season. The good season. And then there's Neil Gaiman, who is heavily involved in the show.

The visuals are spot on. This is exactly how I pictured American Gods as I was reading it. The problem, of course, is that whatever I pictured also put me to sleep. It's a popular novel, so I'm in the minority here, but the trailer presents the same challenge I had with the book. What is going on and why should I care? When Game of Thrones was turned into a TV show, yes I knew it was an acclaimed series of novels, and that partially sold me on the series, but most everything else was an unknown, and the image of the Iron Throne gave me something to hang my hat on. I didn't know much else, but I got that the throne represented the power that everyone wanted, and I could wrap my mind around that. And here, I don't know what anyone wants. That's the same hurdle I've always had with this story. 

A producer once told me there's a cool trick people use if you need to come up with a title for something: “Call it American” something.” American Graffiti, American Horror Story, American Hustle. This appeals to us Americans, obviously, because it promises to be about something we're already invested in. At the very least, it generates a conversation. What's so American about this? Usually the answer is less obtuse than what we have here. But that could also end up being a strength for the show, challenging and rewarding us if we stick it out. Is there enough magic to keep us coming back week after week? This will be my third go round. Let's hope it sticks this time. 

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