It’s a curious time to be an American — this much is incontrovertible. And as much as audiences are using pop culture to escape questions about our country’s identity, there’s value in turning to art for answers, too. It seems no television show is in a better position to address the topic of what it means to be an American than Starz’s American Gods (premiering April 30).
There’s a lot of important television right now, as there always has been: HBO’s Big Little Lies just triumphed in representing authentic female companionship; Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why is lifting a veil on teen mental health; Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, premiering next week and adapted from Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel of the same name, arrives in Trump’s America as a cautionary harbinger of a totalitarian future. But strip away the supernatural cadence of American Gods — a show based on a fantasy novel about holy hidden figures who live among us, some of them cosmically powerful and others barely living on a prayer — and what’s left is something viewers are unlikely to find anywhere else on narrative television: an ensemble of immigrants trying to make it in a country actively turning against them.
“These gods were manifested into reality by their believers who migrated to America and then died and left them essentially powerless, and now they’re just trying to find their way in the world,” executive producer Bryan Fuller, who runs the show with fellow executive producer Michael Green, explains. “There’s a broken quality to each of these characters, a fallen quality. It’s about people who have found themselves strangers in a strange land, trying to make their way the best they can. It’s hard not to see how human their experience is. It’s an immigration story much more than a god story.”
The crux of American Gods, based on Neil Gaiman’s 2001 novel, is that ancient mythological figures from around the world — folks like Anansi, Sheba, Horus, Loki — arrived on our shores centuries ago through the worship of immigrants but have remained in America long afterward. With few believers left, they’re having trouble gleaning power (and thereby surviving) from a country that’s instead so focused on ideas like celebrity, technology, and consumerism that a whole new host of American gods have manifested from those obsessions (among those characters, Gillian Anderson plays Media, the goddess of TV, taking the shape of various Hollywood icons; Bruce Langley is the Internet-powered Technical Boy, ever-evolving to almost desperate degree). But, hey, America’s a big country! There ought to be room to believe in both! GQ says that the modern man can multitask!
Sadly, the circulation of human attention is, like all other forms of currency, finite. The rise of new gods must mean less prayer for the old. The life-or-death stakes of America’s ethereal economy have cultivated a resentment toward the old gods, too, and a desire by the new to not just best but eradicate international competition. Already a part of the new country, the old gods have nowhere to go. And we, the unwitting human pawns, are unaware of how crucial we are as participants to the whole crisis. Draw whatever parallels you please.
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