American Gods review

It's hard to know where to start with American Gods, the first two episodes of which are now streaming on Amazon Video in the start of the television adaptation of Neil Gaiman's 2001 novel.

While it is artfully shot and manages to look much more expensive than it must be to make, it is virtually incomprehensible for those who are unfamiliar with the source material.

Why, for example, is Gillian Anderson playing Lucille Ball playing Lucy Ricardo, who talks to our lead character Shadow Moon (magnificently ripped Hollyoaks alumnus Ricky Whittle) through a television in a shop? American Gods is certainly the type of show you need to watch with its Wikipedia page open on your phone. Or maybe that's just me.

We kick off with a Viking invasion – because why not? – before our introduction to Shadow, who is being released early from prison due to the death of his wife. Shadow then meets the mysterious Mr Wednesday (Ian McShane) and reluctantly accepts an offer to work for him, as well as having a fight with "leprechaun" Mad Sweeney (The Wire's Pablo Schreiber), who can produce gold coins out of thin air. As you do.

And, oh yeah, just as you're getting your bearings there's an extraordinary extended Under The Skin-esque sex scene in which Yetide Badaki's character does something unthinkable. Shadow also gets punched by a tree during a weird premonition, while an oddball tech type smokes toad skins before having his lackeys beat Shadow up and hang him. So there's a lot going on here.

I was gripped during the first episode despite the suspicion it was a bit all over the place – how much of this is carried over from the notoriously weird novel, I don't know, as I haven't read Gaiman's book – but the second lost its way with a lengthy game of checkers between Shadow and some old guy (Peter Stormare's Czernobog) over a hammer – and my attention faded badly.

Why does Mr Wednesday want a hammer that badly? A clue is probably that he is missing an eye, like the invading Vikings in the prologue, as well as that Czernobog calls him Wotan. How much of a spoiler that is depends on how clued up you are on your mythology.

There's no doubt American Gods is a very stylish show, but there are a lot of strands that need to be knitted together if it is to have the necessary substance to match its gorgeous Lynchian looks. Obviously there is something supernatural going on – duh, check out the show's name – but the plot will have to marry a lot of fantastical elements if American Gods is to be more than a cult hit. Comparisons to Game of Thrones are inevitable, but there hasn't even been a hint of incest yet.

It's early days, but I'm not sure I have the patience for what looks to be a mammoth undertaking on the part of co-showrunners Bryan Fuller (Hannibal) and Michael Green.

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Jamie Smith is a Screenjabber contributor

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