American Gods is trying. In its third season premiere — one lauded as a return to form by cast members in interviews — the show is rebooting itself yet again. With a third new showrunner in as many seasons, the Neil Gaiman adaptation’s jump from page to screen has been a meandering and dramatic tale all its own. And try though it might to give us something new again, the magic that carried the series into creation is decidedly absent.
Not that this is surprising, given its rocky second season. But in its third iteration, things have taken a far more dull and formulaic turn. Music cues and set pieces feel cringeworthy and tired, and the execution of the aesthetic tricks and flourishes made into flights of fancy by Season 1 showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green now feel shoehorned in and out of step.
The current point in the story doesn’t help matters much, either. Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), dealing with the fallout of learning that his father is in fact Odin/Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane), understandably wants to get away from all this Old and New Gods stuff, and finds himself hiding out in Lakeside, Wisconsin. For those who’ve read the book, the location is familiar, home to a spooky mystery and its own cast of characters that — you guessed it — result in Shadow getting into a lick of trouble. Unfortunately, the show handles it all quite predictably, both in tone and measure.
American Gods: Season 3 Photos
There are certainly worthy attempts at mixing it up here, like the reincarnation of Mr. World as Ms. (now played by Dominique Jackson), but efforts to “right” and focus the story leave the whole thing feeling at a loss. Though the writing does feel improved over Season 2, the heart of what made this show particularly weird and exciting under the tutelage of Fuller and Green is still missing.
Gaiman’s source material has always been a complicated, imperfect beast, but one with so much potential, an arena in which to explore what makes America, well, America, and all that it holds sacred. The meandering plot, unique locations, the myriad fascinating gods and all their disambiguations made for a potential playground of richly nuanced storytelling about the complicated American patchwork, by way of a mysterious buddy road trip. The series never felt like something that needed to hew so closely to the book, and in doing so, the show has managed to become a watered-down, oversimplified version of itself that feels like a bit of a slog. Compounding matters, some of the most memorable and engaging characters like Bilquis (Yetide Badaki) and Laura Moon (Emily Browning) are deeply underutilized, which is undeniably frustrating.
All of the actors who’ve come in contact with the series have only enriched what was always going to be an incredibly hard story to tell. It was never going to be perfect, which ultimately feels pretty on-brand (and American, let’s be honest). But the fact that the series never seems to want to dig deeper into that aspect of its own story is what makes it feel so uninspired, so one-dimensional when it should be vital and incisive. The lack of subtlety in dissecting and depicting the darker, stinkier bits of what really “makes” America tick is a disservice to the story that could and should be told, if the show didn’t keep following such well-traveled roads.