‘American Gods’ Loses Its Luster In Second Season

‘I’ ON CULTURE

One of my favorite shows American Gods, has started down the Lost path in its second season. That path, named for the earlier TV series, refers to a show that begins with a great idea and then loses its way as it can’t keep up the drama. The best shows do not have this problem. Game of Thrones, for example, can call back and refer to scenes from the very beginning of the series as it comes to a (sob) end. But American Gods, after a brilliant first season, has gone wandering in search of a plot.

The idea behind the show, in which the mythological god Odin (Ian McShane), called “Mr. Wednesday” in the series, plans to gather all the old American gods to fight the new ones that have arisen, like Technology and Media. The show was surreal, terribly violent and different than anything else. Much of the plot centered on Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) an ex-con and his dead, but not gone, wife Laura (Emily Browning). They were the emotional center of the first season with no reason given.

The second season, which just ended, began with a literal bang. A Russian goddess (Cloris Leachman) was killed. Mr. Wednesday calls for war. And then… nothing really happened. Episode after episode wandered through stories seemingly disconnected to anything else. Characters appeared briefly, and then disappeared. There were a few episodes dealing with racism in Cairo, Illinois. There was a lot of debate about the nature of the universe and belief systems. There was a road trip to a mall to get Odin’s spear refurbished. Laura went wandering around trying to find a way to live again (flies buzzing around her constantly were an interesting variant). And, after a couple of blunt sex scenes, one of the most interesting characters, Mad Sweeny (Pablo Schreiber), an unlucky, very tall leprechaun (who might have been Odin’s son a thousand years ago) meets his end.

One real problem is that too many key characters have become cardboard cutouts of real people (or, in this case, gods). McShane plays Odin as the ultimate con man, one who makes many mistakes. In mythology, he was the Norse god of wisdom. Mr. Nancy (Orlando Jones), who is the African god Anansi, is always ferocious even while trying to be sardonic. While his talks on racism provide perhaps the toughest commentary seen in fictional television, he manages to interfere in the worst ways. Schreiber, playing one of the more complex characters, does have an interesting death, but it’s so late in the season that we might have to wait a year or two to find out if it has any meaning.

The authors have clearly drifted away from wherever the show seemed to be going. The war between the gods is meandering, there are so many minor characters and stories that seem disconnected, that there has been no real plot. An interesting first season has drifted into meaninglessness.

Shows can grow and flourish without losing their basic point. The Big Bang Theory, going off the air as the comedy champion after 12 years, proves the point. From the start, it was a sort of a Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs rip-off, although Penny (Kelly Cuoco) was hardly virginal and there were only four nerds she hung out with. But the basic point, the social weirdness of the nerds, has not changed. Yes, somehow one of them, Leonard (Johnny Galecki) actually wins the beautiful woman. Sheldon (Jim Parsons) set up as the supreme genius on the edge of social insanity actually finds a woman who turns out to be perfect for him. His relationship with Amy (Mayim Bialick) manages to somehow tap into all of his weirdness while allowing him to grow. But all of the characters have grown. And, even better, have remained really funny. The strange guys of 12 years ago are still recognizable within the characters, and that has created a wonderful unity.

Too bad the showrunners of American Gods did not learn from that.

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