TV Show Reviews

Welcome to my blog . . . . my ability to mix it up a little and express my bottomless movie knowledge with some unexpected flavour combinations every time has led me to entitle my blog 'movie chef' . . . enjoy the latest seemingly random associations below . . .


American Gods Season 1 Episode 1 Review – ‘The Bone Orchard’

 

American Gods has a petulant swagger, hunkering self-assurance and arrogance backed up by a conceited faith in its source material. From the opening frame to a jaw dropping closing salvo ‘The Bone Orchard’ delivers on visual panache, audacious invention, hard R rated sexual congress and violence at once poetic yet savagely close and personal. There are so many tricks up the collective sleeves of Messrs Bryan Fuller and company it will make your head spin. Starting from left field and coming out of the gate like Vikings, American Gods takes the plethora of interweaving storylines which make up Neil Gaiman’s Magnus Opus and bombards you relentlessly.

 

Dreamscapes of breathing branches, bison with eyes of flame and sex scenes which feel orgasmic, sultry, dirty and visually destroy anything Thrones ever tried, are just a few of the things in store. Beyond the picture palette, sense of confidence and originality which oozes like sweat from the pores, Gods has such a rich tapestry of limitless character as to be almost beyond belief.

 

Ricky Whittle best known from Hollyoaks is a revelation as Shadow Moon our singular link to what passes as normal in this world. A stoic, measured presence in all situations with a pent-up physicality used in brief yet effective flashes of violence. Released into a world after years of incarceration Moon only wishes to travel from point A to point B without incident, something under normal circumstances which should be simple. Cinematic moments, high production values and a budget capable of delivering a series capable of filling five seasons await the intrepid.

 

 

What they have done here is introduce characters carefully, stylishly and with no scrimping on effects. Pablo Schreiber’s Mad Sweeney, Ian McShane’s Wednesday and Yetide Badaki’s Bilquis, all get moments to shine in ways you will never forget. Creating character amongst the sweat, tears, darts and hard liquor. There are moments reminiscent of Zack Snyder but with more subtlety and less needless FX, while ghoulish fantasy, pitch black humour and VR tech open things out visually catching you off guard.

 

McShane is mischievously sordid, world-weary and sporting a venomous underbelly beneath the aging trickster façade. Schreiber paints a comedic picture as the ticking time bomb which is Mad Sweeney, while Badaki’s introduction is the stuff of nightmares. For fans of the novel this opener promises all the poetic literary invention Gaiman brings to his page transplanted book, binding and sinker. Spellbinding, boldly honest and narratively challenging in ways which may yet prove to redefine television, ‘The Bone Orchard’ is not just a great first episode but may prove to be ‘the’ greatest first ever. To paraphrase Bennett Miller’s Moneyball; ‘the first ones through the wall always get bloody’. Judging it on those terms Gaiman’s American Gods is claret soaked and cut to ribbons.


American Gods Season 1 Episode 2 Review – ‘The Secret of Spoons’

 

American Gods is more of a mood than set of narrative ideas. It welcomes you in from the cold with thick blankets, a roaring fire and steaming cup of mulled wine. You let your guard down being wooed by the visual majesty of dandelion seeds being swept into the atmosphere. Charged with electricity before the first rains fall, or naked forms frozen in space observing distant galaxies before cutting back to a heated carnal exchange. Here is the conundrum which exists between our central journey with Shadow Moon and everything else.

 

Slave ship zoot suited demi-gods lecturing captives on a Danish sailing vessel on the things yet to come, whilst tenor saxophones play alluringly beneath is disconcerting. Wildly inventive and narratively challenging without doubt but this is the point. Repetitive sound effects, close quarters camera work, bloodletting which is sultry, dirty, dishevelled and hormonally charged await anyone who buys into American Gods. Ricky Whittle remains a measured presence amongst the subtle mayhem which follows Wednesday around. Rain drenched lynch mobs, staple gun sutures applied to sweat soaked wounds and a masterly portrayal weaved between the cracks delivered by Ian McShane are all on offer.

 

Sense is for those who like their stories linear and that method is not to be found here. Orlando Jones, Gillian Anderson and Peter Stormare add to the impressionistic extremely surreal nature on show in episode two. Forty plus minutes of television which is hard-hitting, understated, unique in ways it is almost impossible to describe accurately and yet enthralling. Earning its eighteen rating with mere suggestion rather than gross out close and personal violence, you get the impression that seediness exists just beyond the frame, just round that corner or moments after lights go out.

 

 

Every character thus far is well-rounded, fully evolved with a back history both murky and repellent, replete with redemptive qualities hidden somewhere in the past. Stormare’s Czernobog is comedic yet brazen, animalistic yet carved from hardship and perpetually on the edge of anger. Slavic heritage bleeds from both himself and Cloris Leachman’s Zorya Vechernyoya. History exists between everyone within this world and Shadow Moon is our only way in. His confusion mirrors our own as a plethora of imagery, ideas, visual bravado and subtle social commentary blends together amongst the blood, sweat, sex and chequers.

 

Whispered folk songs, suggestive backroom gin joint overtures and the smell of post-coital musk permeate the air from start to finish. Episode two is a sensory experience like no other taking the most mundane items and weaving magic from visual invention. We have in the first two episodes something altogether unique with moments of brilliance, grounded within a world we have never seen before.

 

 


American Gods Season 1 Episode 3 Review – ‘Head Full of Snow’

 

Losing none of its ability to visually stun three weeks in ‘Head Full of Snow’ weaves a narrative dance around its unsuspecting audience. Exploring religious fables, physical congress with mythical beings and modern-day attitudes towards a search for identity. Intercutting short story vignettes, with our central narrative thread, Gods touches on Slavic folktales, Egyptian deities and astrological providence without dropping the ball.

 

Moments of gratuitous physicality are lifted beyond mere flesh fetish by desert seascapes, iridescent irises and the underlying assumption of self. Mundane actions of the money grabbing kind are transcended by snowflakes forming as cars careen across their surface. Weather is controlled on a whim just as time stands still and water droplets slow to a standstill. All of this is delivered with a confidence which cares little for ratings, approval, renewal or safe bets. An adage that seems to have paid dividends as season two has already been approved.

Above all it is this disregard and supreme focus that has garnered almost universal praise for the series so early into its first run. That and an unshakeable faith in Gaiman and his source material. Apartment blocks which stretch into the clouds, astrological waifs in cotton dresses who pluck planets from their orbit and dead drunk Irishman a shotgun blast shy of ignominy await the brave and foolhardy. Mix in central performances anchored by an Ian McShane both laconic, lascivious and brimming with righteous indignation simultaneously and we have ourselves a strange brew.

 

Never has the conjuring of snowflakes, flashes of briefly glimpsed characters or rancorously driven leprechauns been so engaging. Let us not forget also how downright dirty, dishevelled, unkempt and unruly Gods has turned out to be. In a few short weeks there have been threats made with dripping sledgehammers, sexual black holes, planetary vistas and incidents of sordid genius none of it suitable for terrestrial transmission.

That is before we get to the matter of Wednesday, Shadow, and his recently deceased wife Laura. In the gathering snowstorm and blasted glacial cloudfront there is an undeniable foreboding. This may have examined the line between reality and fantasy, belief and make-believe but now I fear Gods is crossing over into the realm of dreams. That line which Shadow has merely skated until now is soon to be erased forever. As we go deeper into the rabbit hole and explore what it means to have identity and be denied the opportunity to establish your own Gods will get better. Never have multiple narratives been so effectively interlinked around a singular idea with such bold brilliance. In the words of Aldous Huxley we have truly entered a brave new world.


American Gods Season 1 Episode 4 Review – ‘Git Gone’

 

Convention kicks in for twenty minutes before ‘Git Gone’ gets a dark arse swagger on, reminding anyone with doubts that American Gods is far from finished making headlines. Re-conditioned corpses, Egyptian deities and boatload of bug spray keep this relationship origin story away from genre territory. Visual flair and photographic showboating are kept at bay, with only the occasional insect suicide in slow motion to remind us where we are.

 

Death, resurrection and oral decapitation are all thrown into the mix as American Gods attempts backstory, from within the consciousness of an astral plane inhabitant. By creating an emotional blank canvas in Laura, devoid of conscience, indifferent to others and merciless in her manipulation for personal gain, we are asked to cast judgement. There are still elements of the fantastic here but if anything episode four is more a redemption story than anything else.

Watching Laura and Shadow get together is a sordid, slutty, sharp and sassy experience, uniquely twisted within meet cute scenarios of late. Seeing that relationship slowly deteriorate irrespective of promises made, keeps these people damaged and true despite their heightened reality. Free for the first time from any appearance by Ian McShane, Ricky Whittle and Emily Browning do well filling his absence.

 

Their chemistry is evident, subtlety understated and never played for anything other than plot purposes. Browning is a fully fledged pint-sized temptress with scant regard for anyone or anything which gets between her and an objective. Not so much the harlot, more a woman who sees men as a means to pass time, here is someone with sociopathic tendencies and an emotional fail safe. Never veering over the line, she remains likeable in spite of her behaviour lending Laura an endearing quality and recognisable moral centre.

However where Gods truly excesses is in the flashes of black and white imagery, fluorescent horizons and detaching body parts. Here is a show deep on philosophical underbelly, cloaked in carnal qualities and shrouded with visual motifs. Here people are painted carefully with little time for generalities and even less for wasted screen time. Complexities whether concerning death, deities, afterlife or lack thereof are all given equal time to state a case. Where matters beyond the mortal flesh are offered ample opportunity to fulfil a chosen destiny.

 

That the opening intro chooses to wrong foot you with something expected shows how strongly these showrunners have their hands at the wheel. Morally questioning, perpetually challenging and still one of the most original programmes currently on air, American Gods has scorched earth, moved mountains and made seismic strides in raising the bar for anyone else. Right now there are few things that come close.


American Gods Season 1 Episode 5 Review – ‘Lemon Scented You

 

A free-floating ‘Seven Year Itch’ icon combined with ‘Stardust’ pastiche are just two of many personas which make ‘Lemon Scented You’ come alive. Acid trip laced introductions with swinging sledgehammers and balm pot crazy Irishmen, meld together into a seedy segue of sordid indulgence offering minimal recap for the uninitiated. Dappled woodland, glacial landscapes and an untarnished American wilderness are rendered in stop motion CGI, depicting a time when Gods and men were separated by little more than temporal time shifts. Before modern man ushered in a period of perceived supremacy and deities became nothing more than imagination.

 

So it is that episode five brings us a corpse confessional, violin sharp notes and distraction tactics weaved into incidental musical accompaniment. Close up camerawork on faces, lips, door locks and fly paper sticky insects add to the disquiet. Taking our attention away from the love story which refuses to die between Shadow Moon and his recently dead, highly adulterous wife Laura. Stitched together, ice-cold to the touch and alluring as only a journey into necrophilia can be. Their dialogues are interspersed with snippets of Bowie induced homage, powered by a Gillian Anderson performance which is part Bowie approximation and Monroe rock opera.

Each time Anderson is on-screen she gets to demonstrate her acting prowess, play fast and hard with our perceptions as well as make us lament the passing of a music icon. Rarely does an actor get the opportunity for reinvention which American Gods provides here, gifting Anderson a chance to remind people of her versatility. While Gaiman’s magnum opus continues its structural unpacking around her shape shifting and finding form, moving from page to screen with moments of visual brilliance and disregard for the conventions of structure. Interestingly this means nothing really happens narratively but everything still changes as more players join the game.

 

This leaves Moon and Wednesday comfortably numb amongst the madness. One providing understated stability while his counterpart is all curmudgeonly indifference and card shark morality. Hand cuffed and face to face with raven familiars and creepy crawly sneak thieves for company, Wednesday still carries the conniving and worldly-wise overtones of a man who knows too much. Between an undead wife, virtual reality interrogation and cash rich Irishmen with an obsession for coinage Moon remains unfazed. Cleverly making flesh the godlike personification of Big Brother we find ourselves in a room without windows, watching pixilated flesh fill the field of vision as Mr. World enters our dominion. For the first time new and old clash as they circle each other trading respectful dialogue before landing a first punch. Only the tech savvy wunderkind loses teeth in a metaphorical punch of such visual audacity that it fits right in.

American Gods has established itself in five episodes as the stuff of television history. Renewed for season two less than three hours in, making broadsheet headlines after episode three and displaying more balls and backbone than most shows manage in twice the time. There remains a confidence, eloquence and sense of agenda behind this gothic noir that transcends anything else streaming or otherwise right now.


American Gods Season 1 Episode 6 Review – ‘A Murder of Gods’

 

 

Gilt edged scripture etched into border patrol artillery, stylishly bombastic recaps and Ennio Morricone influenced anthems, foreshadow another entry in the American Gods ‘how to’ guide for re-engineering audience expectations. ‘Lemon Scented You’ may have shrouded itself in Lynchian influences and combined an architectural aesthetic with a painter’s eye for framing and colour. But ‘A Murder of Gods’ goes one further, wrapping that approach into a road movie ethos made up of debates on religion and methods of maintaining purifying flesh over distance in warm weather.

 

 

Dissecting allegiances with the subtlety of a surgeon’s knife American Gods brings together a polar opposite pairing unmatched since Preacher last year. Mad Sweeney and Laura Moon are mutually selfish, antagonised by indifference and driven by decomposition and greed. Throwing verbal barbs, threats of physical retribution and litigious declarations of intentional injury throughout their chemistry is infectious. Both indifferent yet transparently needy, this sparing adds an essential darkness, nauseating sexual attraction and underlying compassion. Their headline grabbing ‘Head Full of Snow’ companion is both complicit accomplice and silent majority. Never weighing in between debates, enforced silences and any slagging matches which ricochet between this minty ex-wife and mythical Irish icon. As a result things barely move anywhere whilst managing to cover intellectual ground.

Elsewhere thinly veiled stabs at consumerism, gun laws and big business are embodied by the town of Vulcan. A place which literally rains down bullets, makes it mandatory for people to carry firearms and glories in high pollution levels and higher degrees of armament. It is here where we track Shadow and Wednesday, as the latter exchanges pleasantries, pontificates with a grizzled God of Fire over insurance pay outs, mortality rates and how people feel better carrying large guns. Shadow meanwhile battles with the reality of a world beyond that tip of the iceberg we all talk about.

 

Nothing more than a tenor sax imbued road trip across baking hot asphalt causeways, ‘A Murder of Gods’ is sultry, sexual, deviant and diverting without once sacrificing style for substance. In this world wounds run deep, memories stretch beyond imagining and the living, dead, mythical and ancient beings all stand together. Hidden in plain view, forging industry from the ether and carving progression from a rock face while everyone else looks away. In this corporate driven, internet infected, socially dependent society ideas of substance are disappearing. Modernity has driven out faith, done away with imagination and made non-believers of us all. Pick apart this nightmare dreamscape of brave television and read between the lines, because this is our carrion call to the collective unconscious. Go ahead and let yourself be challenged.


American Gods Season 1 Episode 7 Review – ‘A Prayer for Mad Sweeney’

 

Narrated by an erudite mortician with a talent for finely tailored calligraphy, American Gods unfurls like a genteel acid trip without the paranoia and better dialogue. Naturally nuanced and inventively old-fashioned, ‘A Prayer for Mad Sweeney’ does away with tricks in favour of solid storylines built around fantastical characters. Featuring faery tale visuals combined with Pilgrim father prison ship overtones, Gods throws its audience by cross cutting between time and place. Seguing seamlessly between modern-day road trip compatriots Sweeney and Laura Moon, before jumping back to pick up with their latter-day doppelgängers.

 

 

By mixing soundtracks and incidental musical influences between Fifties rockabilly and saxophone swing jazz, Gods continues to challenge whilst delivering a story of breadth. Browning in dual roles plays the middle incarnation of our ‘Made In America’ protagonist raised to believe in leprechauns, magic and mystery. From youth through to old age each actress providing a solid cross generational portrayal, with Browning doing the heavy lifting. Guided by the silky tones of our talented literary scribe we follow her through numerous misadventures, each showing elements to the actress which her scathingly bitchy alter ego prohibits. With the elegance and grace of a black widow prior to paralysing her prey, Essie uses guile and beauty in a story defined as much by dialogue and intonation as physical congress.

Alongside this is an origin tale delivered under the radar, more distraction technique than rags to riches eulogy. Mad Sweeney begins as the stuff of legend, grows into an old wife’s tale before being burdened into being by a necessity and need personified by Essie McGowan. It is here the hard-drinking Irish gob shite melts an audience into submission, by revealing his irreverence and pithy demeanour to be nothing more than a defence mechanism. Pablo Schreiber slots in like a missing jigsaw piece to help refine another cool, calm, stylish crossover episode which just adds to the already flawless reputation American Gods has garnered thus far.

 

Minus McShane and Ricky Whittle we are given instead an ageless romance which resonates across centuries of time between opposites. Both foul-mouthed, intolerant of others, self-absorbed to the point of narcissism yet inexplicably drawn together by necessity. As the carnage of an upturned ice cream truck lays dormant with its front wheels still spinning a bearded figure crawls from the wreckage. Just up ahead her torso is exposed having been thrown through the windscreen. A few feet away sits a gold coin, his gold coin, their shared connection exposed, vulnerable and within reach.

‘A Prayer for Mad Sweeney’ gives us another reason to lament the fickle faith of creative programming which is inherently risk averse and lacking in imagination. Commissioned as an eight part taster for the tentative television viewer, American Gods has borne witness to and birthed a phenomenon. Never choosing the path of least resistance Fuller, Slade and Gaiman have created something of beauty akin in musical terms to a classic first album. No dud tracks, no filler and no margin for error, has them harnessing lightening, saddling inspiration and forging ahead to give us a defining moment in television


American Gods Season 1 Episode 8 Review – ‘Come To Jesus’

 

Intricate metaphors weave like finest thread between the interlinking strands of this season finale. Visual spectacle is in no short supply and theatrical trickery stands side by side with televisual flare, making ‘Come To Jesus’ something unique. Because instead of supplying pay off for the time invested Gods goes the other way, heaping invention upon invention, using irony and biblical debate like confetti whilst admonishing us for our lack of faith.

 

 

Musical accompaniment shapes our experience here more than at any other time. Tenor sax trickles over intricate visuals as spiders weave their way between strands of cloth. An ornately decorated sewing machine taps away while a finely manicured hand guides the process, popping in and out of close up, before inviting us into their confidence. So begins this Tinto Brass, ‘Caligula’ inspired piece of writhing Egyptian homage. All timpani drums and apposing clarinets, an orchestral orgy concerto by fire light with Yetide Badaki’s Bilquis as the main event.

All sensual posturing, striking visage and manipulative mannerism, Bilquis rises like a phoenix from the ashes and her story is engrossing, relevant and one disco dipped psychedelic acid trip to behold. Peppered with audacious visual imagery, clever timestamp signatures and enough salacious sexual sass to make Foxy Brown step aside, ‘Gods’ covers the decades but manages to overlay a narrative without losing step. But in this season closer Bilquis is part of a much richer tapestry, alongside jelly bean producing bunnies, multiple ‘Christ’ figures and breast-feeding biblical virgins next to multi-coloured macaroons.

 

Tucked away between the affluent hills of upper class America, swathed in opulence, implying purity yet savagely decadent sits a mansion where Gods hang out. If you are a believer, non-believer, fair weather worshipper or convert to the dark side, this is where Fuller, Green, Gaiman and company throw down. And where the easily offended best prepare to get affronted because those claws are out. Amongst the niceties, civilities, freshly forged swords and garden party three-piece suits some religions are about to be debunked. Now Gods is not saying religion as a means of fulfilment is outmoded, just that people have forgotten they need to do it.

Newcomer Kristin Chenoweth is the personification of that reminder giving us Easter in all her bedecked magnificence. Remaining chocolate box perfect, crimped, coiffed and tanned while a multitude of duplicate Jesus stand around trying not to mark the furniture. McShane’s Wednesday has never been more in his element than he is right here, imbuing every phrase with a worldly-wise omnipotence while wooing Easter off her feet. In fact everyone else brings their A game too, sensing that the material is a rarefied commodity in having something important to say beyond its intention to entertain.

 

Occasionally a programme comes along with the ability to change the landscape, move the goalposts and redefine expectations. Executives are already trying replicate, repackage and profit from this one-off, but fortunately for us American Gods stands alone. A reminder of what can happen when creativity and freedom combine without corporate interference.