Magazine article The Spectator

TV: American Gods

Magazine article The Spectator

TV: American Gods

Article excerpt

Since completing season two of the brilliant Narcos, I've been unsuccessfully looking for a replacement serial drama that is more appealing than a bath and early bed. But the problem with TV these days is that series like Breaking Bad have set the bar so high that one ends up like a jaded emperor, forever rejecting good-but-not-quite-good-enough stuff for the most trivial of reasons.

Better Call Saul (Netflix original), for example. I've tried getting into it a couple of times now (and probably will again because so many people rave about it) because I love Bob Odenkirk's dodgy lawyer character. But I found he worked better as light relief in the context of Breaking Bad's otherwise relentless and unforgiving bleakness. In Breaking Bad, Mexican gangsters would never be talked, by hucksterish gab, out of killing their victims and just amiably break their legs instead. In Better Call Saul they can be, which seems to me a cheat: as if Reservoir Dogs had suddenly morphed into The A-Team.

Interestingly, Sneaky Pete (Amazon Prime) has a similar problem. I say 'interestingly' because it's another Breaking Bad offshoot, the co-creation of Bryan Cranston, who appears in it as a vicious crime boss. But for all the Cranston character's menace, the general tone is knockabout and caperish, which means that however bad things get for its conman hero Marius (the very likeable Giovanni Ribisi) there's never quite the necessary sense of jeopardy to keep you on the edge of your seat. It pretends it's The Sopranos; really it's The Waltons.

My latest mild disappointment is American Gods (Amazon Prime), despite a hugely promising opening scene last week in which a longship of hairy Norsemen find themselves stranded and becalmed in the hostile New World, and realise that only an appeal to the appropriate viking god will get them home.

First they carve him a wooden idol: no use. Then they all heat some sharpened stakes in a fire and each poke one of their eyes out: possible mild interest. Then they burn one of their comrades alive: a slight freshening of the wind. Then they start fighting to the death: the god -- a war god -- is delighted and gives the survivors the wind they need to get home. Now we fast forward to the present: a taciturn, muscular convict called -- for some stupid reason -- Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) wakes in his cell a few days before his release, clearly destined to be this bizarre, meandering tale's bemused protagonist. …

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