AnTV: American Gods Series Premiere + April 29-May 5 Recap

This past week saw the series premiere of American Gods, a show that I have been eagerly anticipating for a number of reasons. Elsewhere, Better Call Saul continued its remarkable third season and Fargo aired one of the most unique hours of the show's run so far. Arrow even managed to focus an episode entirely around Oliver and Felicity without it being totally unbearable. In all, it's been a good week. On to the recap...

American Gods (Starz, Sunday @ 10:00 p.m.)

Season 1, Episode 1

"The Bone Orchard"

Grade: A

Hannibal, NBC's series chronicling the relationship between Hannibal Lecter and FBI profiler Will Graham prior to the novels by Thomas Harris, is one of the great television series of the last decade. Even though it only ran for three seasons before being tragically cancelled, it showed that creator/showrunner Bryan Fuller (already a beloved television creator in his own right) was a true force to be reckoned with. Hannibal has been off the air since 2015, however, and in that time Fuller has kept himself busy developing other project, one of which was Star Trek: Discovery on CBS, a project Full has since departed from. The other major project Fuller has worked on was an adaption of Neil Gaiman's beloved novel American Gods for Starz. The novel is arguably Gaiman's greatest work, which is quite a title to hold considering how prolific Gaiman has been; for a long time it was thought to be unfilmable, even by Gaiman himself. The book follows a man named Shadow Moon, who is released from prison and comes to be employed as a bodyguard/driver by a mysterious man named Mr. Wednesday. From this seemingly simple premise, Gaiman spins a road story for the (literal) ages, a story of immigrants brought to America and forgotten, struggling to survive in a country that no longer wants or needs them. Any further discussion of the plot would give away details best left to the viewer to discover.

The cast of the show is largely bereft of big names. Shadow himself is played by Ricky Whittle, best known for his role on the CW's The 100, and already Whittle seems to understand his character well. Much has been said by Fuller and Gaiman in the time leading up to the series' premiere about how Whittle was expected to be a bit more overt with his emotions than the Shadow of the novel, as without the narration from the book it could be more difficult to tell how Shadow feels; the slight change in characterization has not affected Shadow negatively, however, as he still feels like the Shadow from the book. Pablo Schreiber, best known for his role as George "Pornstache' Mendez on Orange Is The New Black, appears here as Mad Sweeney, a man who claims to be a leprechaun and harasses Shadow in bar. Elsewhere, Shadow's wife Laura is played by Emily Browning, although she does not appear in this premiere; ditto Shadow's best friend Robbie, played Dane Cook of all people, who also does not appear in this episode.  The show's not-so-secret weapon, however, is Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday himself. A stroke of casting perfection, McShane is Wednesday, from his mannerisms, his appearance, the way he commands attention, and his cryptic speech which leaves both Shadow and the audience guessing what will come next. He's brilliant.

The show also looks like a Bryan Fuller series. American Gods shares a great deal of visual qualities with Hannibal, from the surreal horror elements of Shadow's dream sequences to the overall sinister vibe exhibited by even the more grounded scenes. David Slade, frequent director of Hannibal episodes, also directed this premiere (and the second episode of the series as well), and is largely responsible for these similarities. This was a wonderfully directed episode of television that perfectly conveys the sense of mounting suspense and mystery found in the early portions of the novel. Further adding to the Hannibal reunion, Fuller brought on composer Brian Reitzell to score American Gods as well. Reitzell's supremely unsettling music on Hannibal was a huge part of that show's success. Here, the score once again perfectly captures the atmosphere of the show, adding a sufficient gravity to the proceedings. This is simply a staggeringly well-made series.

As for the quality of the adaptation itself, Fully once again demonstrates a total understanding of his source material. This first hour follows the earliest sections of the book very faithfully; watching iconic scenes, like the bar meeting between Shadow, Wednesday, and Mad Sweeney or Shadow's first encounter with the petulant Technical Boy, brought to life with such skill is simply a joy. I am personally incredibly pleased with how this series has begun and am eagerly awaiting the remaining seven installments in this first season of it. I never doubted that Fuller would deliver another instant classic series with American Gods, and I was not disappointed.

Better Call Saul (AMC, Monday @ 10:00 p.m.)

Season 3, Episode 4

"Sabrosito"

Grade: A

The greatest spin-off of all time just keeps getting better. This week, a large portion of the runtime was devoted to re-acquainting audiences with Gus Fring and his relationship with the Mexican cartel, specifically with Hector Salamanca. Fans of Breaking Bad, of course, know how all this ultimately ends, but a good deal of that story's preamble is unknown and will be showcased over the course of this series. Meanwhile, Jimmy and Kim prepare to take on Howard and Chuck in a battle over Jimmy's plea deal and whether or not it will cost Jimmy his law license. Watching what is essentially four people squaring off verbally in a conference room does not sound very tense or exciting in theory, but in practice and on this series it becomes riveting television.

Arrow (The CW, Wednesday @ 8:00 p.m.)

Season 5, Episode 20

"Underneath"

Grade: B+

Considering the incredible amount of damage done to the Oliver/Felicity relationship on this series, and the systematic character destruction of Felicity specifically, an episode of Arrow focused around the two of them trapped in the Arrowcave and forced to work together to survive, while also talking out their differences, probably shouldn't work. In a surprising turn of events, however, the writers actually managed to both pull it off in this hour and also start Felicity down a road to potential character rehabilitation. This hour left me hopeful that Oliver and Felicity's relationship won't continue to be a point of contention for the series that kills plot momentum and creates unnecessary drama. Hopefully things continue to improve on that front from here.

Fargo (FX, Wednesday @ 10:00 p.m.)

Season 3, Episode 3

"The Law of Non-Contradiction"

Grade: A

Fargo has a number of balls in the air this season: Nikki and Ray's bridge tournament, Nikki and Ray having murdered Maurice with an air conditioner, Emmit and Sy being under the thumb of a mysterious crime syndicate, and Gloria's police department being absorbed by the county police, among others. Considering the fact that the show has introduced so many plots, the decision to essentially place everything on hold for an hour was very risky. This episode followed Gloria as she traveled to Los Angeles in order to investigate her stepfather Ennis's younger life as an award-winning science fiction writer named Thaddeus Mobley. Gloria hopes to uncover some detail from his past that may provide answers as to why he was murdered in the pilot, and so she tracks down a shady Hollywood producer and an actress who had dealings with Ennis back in the 70s. Unsurprisingly for Fargo, the episode not only works but works exceedingly well, totally justifying itself as a diversion from everything going on back in Minnesota. While I will definitely welcome the return to the main plot that will come in the next episode, this brief sojourn west was definitely a trip worth taking.

What Else Was On???

Bob's Burgers - Grade: A-

The Last Man On Earth - Grade: B

Supergirl - Grade: B

The Flash - Grade: B-

Great News - Grade: B+/B+

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Grade: A-