'American Gods' - TV Review, two episodes

We've had a lot of Neil Gaiman media lately: "Coraline," "Stardust," and "Neverwhere" at least. This time they're tackling the very well known American Gods - a conversion I immediately labeled as tricky because I had some major issues with the book. First: the main character ("Shadow Moon") is a non-entity - a fact that is made much of in the book. It's very hard to hang a book on a protagonist who has no personality. I thought Gaiman failed, but obviously a lot of people didn't. And you have a problem translating the concept to TV, as it's essentially impossible to have a characterless character (they don't even try, instead choosing to make him mostly inoffensive). Second major problem: the entire book is a whole bunch of brilliant ideas (about the rise of new gods based on humanity's developing understanding of the world) in search of a worthwhile plot: the book, in part because Shadow is so character-free, doesn't particularly feel like it's going anywhere.

I hoped that the TV series might take the good parts of Gaiman's work (the ideas) and improve on the characters and plot. It was a faint hope, but after seeing the BBC's interpretation of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell - which took a very-difficult-to-bring-to-TV book and utterly nailed it, I held on to that hope. Perhaps the Americans should have let the British do the work - the book is very much about America, but it's by a British author and is also about an outsider's view of the country ...

Ricky Whittle plays Shadow Moon: he's muscular and untalented, a particularly poor start to the series as the man we're going to have to watch almost the entire time. They also have the equally untalented Emily Browning as his dead wife (spoiler alert - the actress matters, you'll be seeing a lot of her if you watch the series). Orlando Jones goes to town as Anansi (a Ghanaian trickster god and a favourite of Gaiman's - he wrote the guy an entire other book), he's not too bad - although in the first two episodes we only see him in ranting ferociously and causing a LOT of death. But their only really good bit of casting is Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday - the old god Odin. He's excellent, and clearly having fun - as he should.

The problem for me, and the reason I stopped after two episodes, is that they've made it darker, bloodier, and less intelligent than the original. It's poorly scripted, and I'm not putting up with that. Especially now that I've found out that they didn't wrap the book up in one season, but have instead stretched it out for a second season and possibly indefinitely - not something Gaiman planned for, and not something the material is up to.