American Gods Season 1 Episode 1 Review: The Bone Orchard

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Adapting a book to screen isn't the easiest endeavor. Sometimes something gets lost in translation or viewers aren't as clued in as readers are in the same amount of time or readers find the adaptation lacking in some way.

There's nothing on American Gods Season 1 Episode 1 that disappoints. Nothing, whether it's down to the finer details straight from Neil Gaiman's excellent novel or additions that lend artistic backstory to kick things off, it's perfection.

The impressive cast slides beautifully into the now iconic roles created by Gaiman and Byan Fuller put his personal touch onto Gaiman's work so that imagining a future Gaiman production without Fuller's style might be the ultimate surprise.

Shadow Moon & Mr. Wednesday - American Gods

There is a lot of material packed into "The Bone Orchard," and most of it is straight out of the book. It's ridiculously impressive how beautifully it translated to screen. Whether that could have been done without Fuller is debatable. 

His signature is all over this production.

And let's mention Fuller's cohort, Michael Green, with whom I was unfamiliar until now but only by name. He was an EP on The River in 2012, which I loved, worked on Everwood for which I had a very successful petition to save and many other shows. Welcome to my light, Mr. Green!

Before I go any further, let me tell you about my history with the book, from the past and recently. I read the book in the past and it always remained with me as one of my favorites. I didn't read it more than once but had vivid thoughts from it stuck in my head.

I started reading it again but didn't finish. As it happened, I read through the first four episodes that were available to press. Weird, right? I'm not going to read any further because it's too easy to get the book and the show confused in my head when reviewing. I want this beautiful production to stand on its own for this purpose.

IF I skip up (and it's possible even if I'm reviewing while the episode plays before me), call me on it.

Prison Shadow Moon - American Gods Season 1 Episode 1

All of that said, this adaptation didn't begin with Shadow Moon in prison. Instead, it began with someone writing a book, which may come later in the novel, maybe not, THAT I do not recall. But placing the scene right up front worked perfectly.

The historical introduction to Odin and his importance as an old god, his power and how far his believers would go to appease him and get is approval sets the tone for the story going forward.

Without it, we're just as in the dark as Shadow. Sometimes that can be good, but what he goes through is so fantastical, yet just this side of sane that it would take a little bit too long to suss out the oddities without it.

A New Low-Key on TV - American Gods Season 1 Episode 1

Low Key Lyesmith seems like an insignificant guy, even if he's played by a significant actor (Jonathan Tucker) and has some great lines before (and after) Shadow gets out of prison. 

Without the Vikings reference, it might not come to mind to equate him with Loki, the other Norseman we watch regularly on TV. Yet this Low Key was paired with Shadow in prison, in a perfect place to recommend him to his pals, such as Wednesday.

They seemed perfectly willing to wait for just the right man for the job at hand, so it's unlikely anyone interfered in the play by way of contributing to Laura Moon's death. The gods don't work like that.

It's like one of those good/news bad news jokes, isn't it? The good news is, we'are lettin' you out early. The bad news is your wife's dead.


The way it all fell together, with Wednesday knowing exactly where to find Shadow and when is one of Gaiman's many strengths within the novel. It's like an intricate puzzle. Fascinatingly, the route changed for the premiere but still felt equally as beautiful.

I'm Wednesday - American Gods Season 1 Episode 1

There are a lot of wonderful scenes within the premiere, and one of the very best features Ian McShane as Wednesday and Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon on the plane getting to know one another.

When the two were announced for their respective roles, I was one of those who thought the casting perfect. McShane has had a lot of roles of late that have done him a disservice, but Wednesday is full of dialog and expressions that fit his style to a T. He has become the character in the book and on screen. 

I cannot imagine anyone else as Wednesday now and hope I never have to make the attempt.

Before the first season of The 100, I had the pleasure of meeting the cast at Comic Con. Whittle is one of the most charismatic men I've ever met. He was destined for big things, and the big thing for which he was destined is playing Shadow Moon. 

He has a way of looking at you that makes the entire room fall away, and you'll see that in action throughout American Gods, especially in the upcoming episodes when he recalls falling in love with Laura. 

For this hour, he was most on point when Shadow felt relaxed and almost like a child. 

Mr. Wednesday: Are you nervous?
Shadow: No, I've never flown before.
Mr. Wednesday: Nothing to it. Just sit back like a bird and drink up. [offers Shadow his drink] What? I offer you the worm from my beak and you look at me like I fucked your mom?
Shadow: Sorry. You're just the first person I've talked to who wasn't an asshole.
Mr. Wednesday: Give it time.

Shadow needed someone not to be an asshole in the outside world, and he found that someone in Wednesday, Mr. Wednesday to him. His new boss, with a job he never knew he needed because he didn't know that the loss of his wife included the loss of his best friend.

Or that both of those relationships would be tarnished forever.

Whittle was equally as great standing on top of Laura's grave talking with her. The moments when he pulls back the bravado and has an opportunity to be the man at the center of God knows what, just trying to figure it all out after losing the only things he loved and looked forward to for the last three years.

Ricky Whittle has been on our radar for a long time, but he's about to be the breakout star of the year. It's a well-earned title.

The Boneyard - American Gods Season 1 Episode 1

Shadow is in the dark about the path down which he's getting ready to walk, but his dreams are not letting him down. His mind is on overdrive, taking him places he has never been, but will likely find himself in the near future. 

Thankfully, he's a well-read and thoughtful guy, because he's going to need to keep his composure as the times are going to get far more trying than they were in prison.

Shadow's troubles were continually interrupted by Wednesday and his offer of employment. He did a good job of remaining calm, but stern in his desires to be left alone.

But Wednesday is a con far beyond the skills of Shadow, even if Wednesday could appreciate the efforts Shadow put out there in his attempts to stave him off.

Con men, coin tricks; Shadow was soon to learn there were a lot of men in Wednesday's circle with similar skills to his own.

Mad Sweeny Takes a Drink - American Gods Season 1 Episode 1

I wouldn't have imagined Pablo Schreiber as Mad Sweeney, but now that he is, I'm all in. I've always been a fan of his, but to think of him sporting an orange mop just seemed silly. 

His scenes with Whittle as Sweeney and Shadow gave each other the once over were highly engaging. 

Shadow: Who are you?
Mad Sweeney: I'm a leprechaun.
Shadow: You're a little tall for a leprechaun.
Mad Sweeney: That's a stereotype. Represents a very narrow view of the world.

Like Shadow, meeting the guy nobody would have thought he was an actual leprechaun. But even pulling coins out of the air didn't spark any clues for Shadow. Like I said, without the benefit of the early Vikings carving an effigy to Wednesday, Shadow is really in the dark here.

Something was eating at Mad Sweeney, and he was itching for a fight. Particularly with Shadow. It seemed like he'd heard about this Shadow fellow and wanted to see if he was everything he was supposed to be. Big guy, does coin tricks, has a pretty dead.

Using the dead wife as the last chance to get Shadow to fight worked quite well, and as a fan of boxing came my second favorite scene of the premiere.

The slow motion fighting was simply gorgeous.

Most Beautiful Fight Scene On TV - American Gods Season 1 Episode 1

I'm with Mad Sweeney on this one. Sometimes fighting can be just for the sheer beauty of it, and this fight was filmed to show what that means.

Atta boy! Now you're fighting for the joy of it. For the sheer fuckin' unholy delight of it!

Mad Sweeney

What can I say? Seeing men being men, using their bodies to brawl can be an amazing thing to behold. It's not fun when they're doing it to try to kill each other, but that's not what the fight between Shadow and Mad Sweeney was about, and they knew it.

It was like a rite of passage, and Mad Sweeney certainly enjoyed it as such. 

He also kept his promise by giving to Shadow a gold coin, which might come in handy down the road, whether either man knows it or not.

Shadow's story for the premiere comes to an end on his way home from the cemetery after Laura's funeral. First, her best friend Audrey tried to seduce him there because of how Robbie and Laura were found, Robbie's dick in Laura's mouth, and then Shadow tossed the gold coin on Laura's grave.

That will obviously be what brings Laura out of her dark sleep.

Technical Boy Goons - American Gods Season 1 Episode 1

But in the meantime, Technical Boy obviously didn't expect Shadow to be so stiff. Given the amount of time he'd had with Wednesday, Technical Boy thought Shadow would know much more by now. He didn't. 

Wednesday is history, forgotten and old. He should just let it happen. We are the future. We don't give a fuck about him or anyone like him. They are consigned to the dumpster.

Technical Boy

That didn't sit well, and Technical Boy's faceless avatars or whatever they were got the go ahead to delete Shadow from existence. They didn't do a very good job.

Someone or something saved Shadow. If you read the book, you know the story. If you didn't when you watch American Gods online, you might have a guess, or you'll be super excited to find out. 

But wait! We haven't yet talked about that scene. And we will.

Being a god isn't easy. It's not all fun and games, and you don't always come out of it with a smile on your face.

Bilquis Eats - American Gods Season 1 Episode 1

How difficult would it be to maintain any kind of relationship with a man if your very nature was to devour their devotion? Was that a crazy scene or what?

The man feels better than he's ever felt in his entire life, but it's also ending at the same time. I think. Maybe he becomes one with Bilquis or maybe he just disappears. 

I'm not sure where she fits in the narrative, I don't remember much about her, but she's a darned interesting and frightening character, don't you think?

What did you think of the American Gods premiere overall?

It began and ended on a bloody note. That's pure Fuller, bringing back beautiful memories of Hannibal and how artistic he can be with the most destructive scenes.

Hit the comments. What surprised you? What are you most looking forward to?

The Bone Orchard Review

Editor Rating: 5.0 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.9 / 5.0 (46 Votes)

Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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American Gods Season 1 Episode 1 Quotes

It's like one of those good/news bad news jokes, isn't it? The good news is, we'are lettin' you out early. The bad news is your wife's dead.


Shadow, we're going to be releasin' you later this afternoon. You'll be gettin' out a coupla days early. There's no good way to say this, so I'll put it plain. This came in from Johnson City Hospital from Eagle point. Your wife, she died in the early hours of this morning. It was ah, an automobile accident.