Episodes viewed: 1-2
After the first season of American Gods concluded, the show found itself in a state as tenuous as the cliffhanger it ended on as behind-the-scenes drama threatened to sink it. Showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green were replaced by Hannibal writer Jesse Alexander and Neil Gaiman; Alexander was soon sidelined after the network’s supposed concern that the production was straying from the tone that Fuller had set, with several episodes undergoing rewrites. Despite this, things continue as close to normal as this show gets, picking up just after the Old Gods — lead by Wednesday (Ian McShane) — and the New Gods — lead by Mr. World (Crispin Glover) — have declared war on each other.
While it’s a little bewildering to be dropped right back into things, it’s fun to watch the actors sink their teeth into such wild material. McShane is having the time of his life as the enigmatic Mr Wednesday, more showy than ever following the reveal of his true identity last season. Laura Moon (Emily Browning) is still the unapologetic, sometimes unpleasant inversion of the ‘dead wife’ trope. The newer characters such as Mr Town (Brooklyn Nine Nine’s Dean Winters) and Mama-Ji (Sakina Jaffrey) occasionally shine too, but are yet to match the rich history of Mad Sweeney or Mr Nancy, who were each given an episode to flesh out their past.
As Shadow, Whittle continues to give life to a role that could easily be forgotten amid all the outlandish characters. Whittle lends Shadow a quiet turmoil and a sense that he’s more than just Wednesday’s puppet. The first flashback story of the new season underlines this, looking at Shadow’s childhood in New York City, delving into his mixed-race heritage. Shadow gets a little more definition but the writing here is clumsy, and it’s a little dismaying to see this story of immigration handled with less tact than some of the powerful, considered vignettes in Season 1.
The show’s look is still a standout, portraying a strange fantasy world through delirious, vivid visuals, propelled by a soundtrack dominated by country, blues and soul. Despite their absence, Fuller and Green’s marks remain; clever transitions, bold colours and flowery dialogue are American Gods’ bread and butter. Unfortunately, Season 2’s troubled production can be felt now; the show is less surefooted in its tone and atmosphere than before. It’s more of an approximation of Fuller and Green’s ornate, sumptuous sensibilities than a perfect replication.