American Gods season 3 spoilers won't be found here.
Gods are nothing without the belief we place in them, and the same is also true of shows like American Gods. Lose the faith of your dedicated fanbase and it won't be long until you're cancelled, destined to fade away like a long-forgotten deity of old.
Thankfully, American Gods is now back on our screens with a third season, but for a while there, not even Odin himself could have foreseen the show's survival. Following a truly divine debut, American Gods stumbled on its second outing, glitching like Technical Boy on Y2K.
It wasn't all bad by any means – certain moments still shone just as bright as season one – but the magic was missing, and off-screen controversy cast further doubt on the show's future. Not only did American Gods flip through showrunners faster than Mad Sweeney flipping through his coin collection, but Orlando Jones' controversial exit also divided the fanbase even further.
Speaking to series creator Neil Gaiman, it quickly becomes obvious that this shifting attitude towards the show wasn't lost on people working behind the scenes. When we first start our chat, Neil discusses the rumours that began to circulate around production on season three...
"On the one hand," Neil recalls to Digital Spy, "I’m hearing people go, 'Ah, yes, season three – You guys are having terrible problems.' And it’s like: 'Nope. Actually, it’s all going really well. It’s fabulous.'"
Of course, most people involved would naturally defend their work, regardless of whether the rumours are true or not, but as Neil pointed out to us, "The proof is in the pudding." And he's right. Against all odds, American Gods is back and stronger than ever.
Both Neil and his leading man, Ricky Whittle, are naturally proud of the end result. At the very start of our interview, Ricky opens by telling us that season three is "a true return to form, the strongest season yet". And from what we've seen so far, we'd probably have to agree.
Sure, Media's absence cuts deep this time round, and yes, we still miss those extended intros, but everything that didn't work last time has been jettisoned or reframed to capitalise on the show's many strengths. Chief among these is Ian McShane, who's better than ever as "the roguish bastard" best known as Mr Wednesday (Neil's words, not ours).
"Ian really is phenomenal," Neil continues. "You just want to spend time in his company. You just want to be with him. You don’t trust him, but, then again, you will always give him another chance."
The other gods and mortals alike are fleshed out more this time too while new guest stars such as Denis O'Hare, Blythe Danner and even Marilyn Manson are added to the show's growing pantheon. Most importantly of all though, the aimless meandering of season two has been replaced by a steadfast purpose which grounds the wilder fantasy elements with a clear aim and direction.
"It’s all come together," says Neil. "On season one, I felt like there was a lot of stuff we got very right straight out of the gate. We had a fabulous, fabulous cast. And we had this sort of hyper-real yet somewhat fantastical look which David Slade brought to the pilot. But I felt like season one tended to be like an anthology series. It felt kind of bitty."
"On season two," he continues, "there were things that really started working. Bringing Bilquis on to the stage, and having her be one of the old gods who understood the advantages of the new gods and technology — It made everything much less black and white. I loved that."
"In season three, we get to build on all of those. You’ve still got the fabulous look. You’ve still got the fabulous cast," Neil promises. "But it no longer feels like each episode is as distinct. It’s a rollercoaster ride, and the rollercoaster starts at episode one. They strap you in, and you’re on the ride. That feels right. That feels like what American Gods should be."
That's high praise indeed, particularly as Neil is the one who first wrote the book American Gods is based on way back in 2001. But why has it taken this long for the show to find such divine inspiration?
Ricky suggests that a lot of this is down to the amount of time that Neil and new showrunner, Charles H 'Chic' Eglee, had to plan everything out beforehand. "For me, it was the most efficient season yet. We all know where we’re going. We got our episodes early, which is tough sometimes on TV productions, especially something as massive as American Gods. It was just really smooth and really easy this year."
During these planning sessions, Neil and Chic hashed out what worked in previous seasons and what didn't, building a new and improved version of the show ready for season three. Crucially, Neil pinpointed the portrayal of Mr World, a key player in American Gods, as one of season two's biggest pitfalls.
"One of the things that I felt had not really come into focus for me was Mr World. Not because Crispin Glover isn’t one of our finest living actors, because Crispin is a national f**king treasure. But because of the way that Mr World was written. It felt like nobody writing Mr World was quite sure who Mr World was," Neil laughs.
"There were writing decisions that I didn’t entirely understand, things that made Mr World smaller and less interesting. For example, I still don’t understand why Mr World was in a secret bunker underneath a golf course in season two. It was like, 'Why is he there? Yes, I understand you build this amazing set, but what is this about?'"
Following this discussion, it soon became clear that Mr World would need to be radically reinvented for season three. And thankfully, on a show where batshit-crazy twists are an everyday occurrence, Neil and Chic were able to easily "open the character up" into multiple roles, sharing Mr World out between Crispin and two newcomers, Danny Trejo and Dominique Jackson.
"Crispin is amazing," says Neil. "But there are more sides to Mr World than the ones that you’ve seen so far. Mr World is much more of an idea than a person."
And what a bloody good idea it was to mix things up like this. Literally. Because as anyone who's watched the season three premiere already knows, Dominique steals the show (much like she does in Pose) with her extremely charismatic (and violent) take on
Mr Ms World.
It's not just Crispin's character who's changed this time round either. Perhaps most crucially of all, season three also fleshes out the show's protagonist, Shadow, who up to this point has often felt too much like his namesake, slipping into the background amidst all the chaos.
In the book, everything is written from Shadow's perspective, but that's not true of the show, which often broadens its focus. Because of this, Ricky feels there was "a lot more pressure on Shadow to frame these beautiful gods all around him, to introduce them all, and allow the audience to feel something through Shadow. We’re looking through his eyes," Ricky continues. "So there’s a lot of pressure as an actor."
In many ways, that's really the show's biggest obstacle: How do you make the most (seemingly) normal character the most interesting? In season one, Shadow's grief and confusion threaten to consume him entirely, and while Ricky shoulders that burden admirably, the script didn't always give his character space to breathe ("He was void of charisma and personality," Ricky admits). And then in season two, this pain was replaced by frustration and anger, which added more depth to the role, but also veered close to unlikeable.
But that's starting to change now. "In season three, we see Shadow smile," Ricky promises. "I’m a bit of a British goofball. So it was nice to throw some fun in there – a little bit of Ricky into Shadow’s stoicism." This shines through most in Ricky's favourite episode of the whole show, an upcoming caper – "Ocean's 11-inspired" – which will show viewers "a very different side to Shadow".
Fleshing Shadow out in this way was particularly important to Neil, who felt Ricky's charm and warmth didn't come through as much as it could have in previous seasons. "It feels like one of the things that we got in season three that we never had before is our leading man. He’s the same leading man we’ve always had, but now he’s our leading man, and you care about him. You understand him."
Of course, a lot of that is because Shadow initially "comes into the story in a state of shock, repressing everything, just trying to cope... What's lovely is, by this point in the story, Shadow does understand what’s going on, and he's becoming somebody else. He's hiding under an assumed name that’s also kind of an assumed identity. And he’s letting that charm happen".
Shadow's rebirth, so to speak, plays a huge role in the success of season three, but ironically enough, the thematic focus of American Gods moving forward is one of collaboration, not individual heroism. As the story progresses, the mantra "I is we" begins to take hold, and that reflects what's going on behind the scenes too.
When Chic first came on board, he immediately invited Ricky into the writer's room to help imbue Shadow with his own voice. "So he brought me in, and we talked about how important it was to have representation and to have everyone be inclusive. The writing room was, I would say, around 10% cisgendered straight white men. The rest was LGBTQ, biracial, black, white, male, female, formerly incarcerated… He wanted as many voices as possible, so they were authentic."
And that's perhaps the real secret behind season three's success. More than ever, communication behind the scenes has come together in ways it always should have.
"It’s about the 'we' having more power than the 'I'," says Ricky. "And that’s what we wanted to put into that writing room. It’s not about one person’s voice – it’s about everyone’s voice."
But as Neil said before, "the proof's in the pudding", so check out the new episodes for yourself to see if you also believe that season three really is "the best one yet". Because without your belief, these gods won't be around forever.
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