TV review: American Gods, Amazon Prime Video (4 stars)

American Gods, Amazon Prime Video

Enthralling, glossy TV adaptation of Neil Gaiman's fantasy opus, starring Ricky Whittle, Ian McShane, Gillian Anderson, Orlando Jones and Peter Stormare

Fantasy fans love Neil Gaiman. American Gods is probably his most celebrated work after Sandman, playing to its author's strength mixing myths and monsters with the modern world. Teaming up with Bryan Fuller (Hannibal) and Michael Green (Logan / Heroes) is a wise move for the first major TV adaptation of Gaiman's work since BBC's cheap and cheerful Neverwhere back in 1996.

The improbably named Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) is our guide. An ex-con just out of prison, down on his luck he finds work with mysterious conman Mr Wednesday (Ian McShane) and discovers a world of deities lurking on the periphery of our reality. There's a lot of exposition and a huge cast of bizarre characters to introduce. The first episode alone features a spectacularly bloody ill-fated Viking trip to the land that would become America, a hulking leprechaun (Pablo Schreiber), a ravenous sex goddess (Yetide Badaki) and the glitchy Technical Boy (Bruce Langley). Episode two adds Anansi (Orlando Jones), Media (Gillian Anderson) and Czernobog (Peter Stormare) to the mix.

It's easy to forget Whittle's past as a star of Hollyoaks and Strictly Come Dancing, he's surprisingly convincing as a tough American hardman. McShane is his usual twinkly mix of cantankerous charisma and gruff exterior. Readers will notice tweaks to the original text but they all serve a purpose, updating and streamlining the story.

There are deeper ideas at play, mainly immigration and religion. The menagerie of immortals piggyback the influx of races, nations and cultures into the United States, acknowledging the conflict between competing ideologies but ultimately celebrating the melting pot that is America. The show also explores changing values as old gods are surpassed by cravings for fame, money and technology. And it's all given the slightly surreal glossy sheen Hannibal fans will instantly recognise (especially with David Slade directing three of the eight episodes).

Even in these early stages it's an enthralling world promising bizarre sights and wonders at every turn. A fantastic fantastical beginning.

American Gods begins exclusively on Amazon Prime Video, Mon 1 May, with new episodes each week.

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