• American Gods: Season One

    American Gods: Season One
    Released by: Starz/Lionsgate
    Released on: October 17th, 2017.
    Director: Bryan Fuller, Michael Green
    Cast: Ricky Whittle, Ian McShane, Emily Browning, Pablo Schreiber, Peter Stormare
    Year: 2017
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    The Movie:

    Based on the novel of the same name penned by Neil Gaiman in 2001, American Gods debuted earlier this year on the Starz Channel in the United States. Lionsgate, who now own Starz, brings the first season to Blu-ray in grand style in an absolutely packed special edition.

    The story begins shortly before a Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) is to be released from prison when he learns that his wife Laura (Emily Browning), who has been carrying on behind his back, has just been killed in a car accident. Shadow Moon is released and when he take a flight home winds up meeting Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane). After a conversation, Wednesday offers Shadow Moon a job, working for him as a bodyguard. Shadow accepts the offer, despite some hesitation at first – after all, his wife is dead and he’s just been released from prison, it’s not like he has a lot of prospects. And of course, that hesitation was warranted, as Shadow quickly learns that this is more than just a regular bodyguard gig. Wednesday is an ‘old god,’ a deity once considered a god in faraway lands eons ago.

    As the storyline plays out, we learn that Wednesday is essentially gathering troops to take to war. His goal is to gather together the other old gods to take out the ‘new gods’ that have essentially replaced them since their glory days ended long ago. Those new gods? They’re made up of Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) and Media (Gillian Anderson), at least to start with. As Shadow Moon accompanies Wednesday on a bizarre cross-country road trip, he winds up meeting old gods like Czernobog (Peter Stormare), Vulcan (Corbin Bernsen), Easter (Kristin Chenoweth) among others. And of course, he also learns the truth behind why Wednesday recruited him in the first place. Oh, and Laura? She’s not really as dead as Shadow thought she was.

    Produced by Bryan Fuller (the man who brought us Hannibal), American Gods isn’t a series to shy away from sex, violence or confrontational/controversial imagery. This is fairly challenging stuff, a series that is as out there artistically as it is high concept, occasionally even a little trippy. The production values, however, are excellent. If this series takes a little while to hit its stride and will no doubt alienate if not flat out offend a large portion of the viewing populace, it is doubtlessly an impressive technical achievement. The cinematography, the use of music, the lighting and color featured in the picture, the makeup, the effects work – it’s all very, very strong.

    And then there’s the cast. You can’t go wrong casting Ian McShane as a lead in a series where he’s free to really run with things. Ask anyone who has ever seen an episode of Deadwood. He owns this series. His turn as Wednesday is often times darkly comedic, occasionally a little frightening and always eminently watchable. Ricky Whittle is also really good here, playing Shadow Moon well and creating an interesting character with him, though it takes a little while for that to happen given the series’ slow and deliberate pacing. Interestingly enough, the supporting cast is just as solid. Not only do we get decent roles for Gillian Anderson, Corbin Bernson, Kristin Chenoweth and Peter Stormare but Crispin Glover, Cloris Leachman, Orlando Jones, Jeremt Davis, Ron Lea, Dane Cook and even The Kids In The Hall's Scott Thompson all show up here.

    This won’t be a series for all tastes. It’s a weird mix of road trip, dark fantasy, twisted comedy and… something else entirely. It takes a while to really hit its stride and the pacing is, at times, almost glacial. But it builds and it builds well, taking some well-aimed shots at American consumer culture, misguided politics and religious hypocrisy to create a series unlike anything else on television right now.


    American Gods Season One is presented on Blu-ray (the season is spread across three 50GB Blu-ray discs) in a series of lovely looking 1.78.1 (though the aspect ratio does occasionally change throughout the run to 2.35.1 as you’ll notice in the screen caps) 1080p AVC encoded high definition transfers. Shot in HD for broadcast, the transfers look quite good here and there's a lot of depth and detail present throughout the entire season if you want to look for it. Color reproduction looks nice and natural without ever feeling like it's ‘too much' while black levels are rich and deep. Shadow detail is great, skin tones look nice and there are no problems with compression artifacts to note. The series does look quite nice indeed in this collection.

    Audio options are provided in English language Dolby TrueHD 5.1 with optional subtitles available in English SDH and Spanish. Everything sounds quite nice here, even if it isn't always a super bombastic mix in every episode (though your surrounds will get a work out at times). Dialogue is always nice and sharp and easy to follow and the score sounds beautiful when it really starts to pick up. Bass response is strong enough and the high end has a nice depth to it that ensures it never sounds too shrill. All in all, there's nothing to complain about here, the audio quality is top notch.

    Extras include two audio commentary tracks available for The Bone Orchard episode. The first features Bryan Fuller, Michael Green, and David Slade. The second track features Ricky Whittle and Ian McShane. Both tracks are quite interesting with discussion covering adapting Gaiman’s original material, casting the picture, the writing process, what it was like working on the series, different character quirks and traits that wind up mattering as the series progresses and quite a bit more. If you’ve never needed confirmation that Ian Mcshane is indeed the man, give the second track a spin. There’s also a video commentary provided over the God Squad episode that basically plays out as a picture in picture track with a few of the cast members chiming in as the episode plays out, offering insight into what they did on the episode. This one, really, could have used a moderator as it goes off the rails here and there but it's a pretty fun alternate way to watch the episode.

    There are also a lot of featurettes here, including the sixteen minute long American Gods: Origins piece that covers the background of the series and its literary roots. In the eight minute Old Gods and five minute New Gods featurettes we get a look at the different characters that populate the series while the What Is American Gods? piece serves as a primer for the show offering some insight into what makes it tick. In the four minute Book Vs. Show we explore the differences between Gaiman’s text and the TV series while the Explore The Crocodile Bar In 360 Degrees featurette, at six minutes, is exactly what it sounds like and is available with some crew commentary to give it some welcome context.

    If that weren’t enough, there’s an eight part documentary included here called The Road To American Gods with a combined running time of almost two and a half hours in length. Honestly? It’s overkill but those who really enjoy the show and want a detailed, in-depth look at how it was made and what it was like work on the series will definitely enjoy this. Oh, and then there’s the Title Gods featurette, running eight minutes and covering the title sequences featured in each episode.

    Outside of that we get menus and chapter selection as well as an insert card containing a download code for a Digital HD version of the movie. This release also comes packaged with a nice embossed slipcover.

    The Final Word:

    The first season of American Gods takes a bit of time to really hit its stride but by the time the middle stretch comes around, it makes for some seriously interesting viewing. Ian McShane absolutely owns the show but the rest of the cast do a nice job as well, and the production values are top notch. The complete season Blu-ray release of the series provides excellent audio and video commentary and a host of interesting supplements that do a very impressive job of documenting the show’s history and origins.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!