The first episode of the highly anticipated series “American Gods” premiered at South by Southwest on Saturday, and it’s shockingly good.
Airing nationally on Starz April 30, the series stars Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday and Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon. It’s based on Neil Gaiman’s 2001 best-selling novel of the same name.
As for the shocking parts, you can take your pick. But most people will probably talk about a sex scene featuring Bilquis (Yetide Badaki). If you have kids in the house, you might want to send them to bed early before tuning in.
The SXSW crowd, however, was pumped for the premiere, and lots of people didn’t even make it inside for the screening.
For those who are unfamiliar with Gaiman’s novel, you need to know that it explores the history and influences of immigrants to America, but in a very bloody way. The cast is multi-ethnic and racially diverse, much like the cast of AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”
The series will explore the varied influences on American cultures, as well as how modern America has let go of some of its old gods to celebrate the new ones. Those two factions of gods are warring in the series.
Shadow Moon and Mr. Wednesday get the most airtime in the jam-packed first episode. Shadow is getting out of prison a few days early because his wife has been killed in a car accident, and all he wants to do is get home for the funeral.
On a flight home, Shadow meets the mysterious Mr. Wednesday, who offers him a job that sounds suspicious. As they make their way to Shadow’s hometown, all of sorts of characters are introduced.
After the screening, the cast and crew appeared on stage to talk about how the role of women in the series is going to be expanded beyond their roles in the novel.
Emily Browning, for instance, plays Laura, Shadow’s dead wife, who apparently comes back from the dead and acts as “a slightly awful guardian angel for her husband,” as Browning put it.
And if the first episode is any indication, Bilquis will play a major role as a love goddess who can be quite scary.
Betty Gilpin stars as Audrey, the best friend of Laura, and she delivers a scene-stealing performance at Laura’s funeral.
Also outstanding are Pablo Schreiber as Mad Sweeney and Bruce Langley as a dangerous character called Technical Boy.
But this series will clearly belong to the buff and charismatic Whittle as Shadow and the always-entertaining and foul-mouthed McShane as Wednesday.
Saturday’s screening is the only one slotted for the festival, but if Starz will give permission, this episode would draw a huge crowd at any repeat screenings, building buzz for what will be a breakout hit on TV this spring.