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Series / American Gods (2017)

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"What came first? Gods — or the people who believe in them?"
Mr. Wednesday

American Gods is a TV series based on a novel by Neil Gaiman. It was developed by Bryan Fuller and Michael Green for Starz, and premiered on April 30, 2017. The first season adapts the first third of the book, following Shadow Moon (portrayed by Ricky Whittle) and Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) on their journey across America. The show expands on the book by giving more spotlight to some of the book's supporting characters, including Laura Moon (Emily Browning), Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) and Bilquis (Yetide Badaki), as well as the antagonists like Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) and Media (Gillian Anderson).

On May 11, 2017, about 2 weeks after the premiere episode debuted, Starz announced that they would be picking up the show for a second season.

Bryan Fuller and Michael Green exited the show after the first season due to disagreements with Starz about the budget. Their replacement for Season 2 was Jesse Alexander. Charles “Chic” Eglee was showrunner for Season 3.

On March 29, 2021 it was announced that the show had been cancelled due to low ratings (a 65% decrease from season one). The producers are negotiating to produce a TV movie that would conclude the series, as season three ended on a cliffhanger.

This show provides examples of:

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  • Aborted Arc:
    • The first season ends with Ostara (Easter) joining with Wednesday and taking back spring, killing plants for miles around, if not across the country. In Season 2, her absence is handwaved away as her being annoyed with Wednesday for running over her rabbits, and her actions are not referenced again.
    • The sword that Vulcan forges for Wednesday appears to be forgotten in Season 2, with Wednesday focusing instead on reforging and repairing Gungnir.
  • Action Prologue: The series starts with the Vikings' first voyage to America, ending with a massive battle to the death as a blood sacrifice to persuade Odin to bring wind to their sails.note 
  • Actually Pretty Funny: Shadow is quickly suspicious when Mr. Wednesday makes unusually dead-on observations, but he starts to chuckle at his antics when Wednesday deduces that Shadow had a hippie mom.
  • Adaptational Badass:
    • Both the Old Gods and the New Gods get a lot more time to show off their powers in this series than the books. For example, Technical Boy was just a fat kid in a limousine in the novels. In the series, his limousine is a pocket dimension he can force others into. He can also spawn the faceless "children" to work as his Mooks out of virtually nothing, can freeze time, and can erase others from existence.
    • In the novel, Laura possesses superhuman strength that she uses when necessary, but it's played as more a secondary trait compared to her endurance and determination. Here she's an unstoppable ass-kicking machine who at one point knocks a god across a room with a literal flick of her finger.
  • Adaptation Expansion:
    • The (admittedly big) novel was originally planned to have three or four seasons, but received only three.
    • Lots of the characters show up far earlier in the series than they did in the book.
    • The entire second season is original to the television adaptation, covering new events and characters not in the novel, along with additional background to established characters.
  • Adaptational Early Appearance: Anubis and Thoth appear several times before their book introductions.
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication: In the book, Shadow is walking back to the hotel from Laura's burial by himself, because he was dropped off by Wednesday, then rode to the burial with Laura's mother in a limousine. In the show, however, he took Wednesday's Cadillac to the funeral, and there's no scene in the limo, so one assumes he took that car to the burial as well. The reason, however, that it's important that Shadow walks back to the hotel is that it's on the road that he has his first run-in with the Technical Boy.
  • Adaptation Personality Change:
    • In the book, Shadow is noted to be an Unfazed Everyman — which even Mr. Wednesday lampshaded — who also spoke politely and never cursed. The series sees him more emotional and swearing frequently, since Shadow constantly remaining calm and unfazed works fine on paper but would be pretty anticlimactic on screen.
    • Laura Moon has, compared to the book, almost switched personalities with Shadow. In the book he was amiable, quiet, and almost "not there" in how he could fade into the background, whereas Laura was bright, full of life and had a sparkling personality that could make friends immediately with almost anyone. In the show the situation is practically reversed - Shadow is sociable, outgoing and proactive, whereas Laura is world-weary and bored of life to the point of dallying with self-harming and nearly committing suicide, just to feel something.
    • Bookverse Mr. Nancy was fun-loving and laid back. Mr. Nancy's first scene in the series has him spitting a furious speech about what America has in store for African slaves and their descendants, inciting a 17th century ship full of slaves to break their chains, slit the throats of their enslavers, and burn the boat down. Then again, these scenes are merely stories written by Mr. Ibis, and in his first proper appearance in the present day, Mr. Nancy is just as passionate, but much friendlier toward Mr. Wednesday and Shadow.
  • All for Nothing: Much of Season 2 is spent on Wednesday's quest to restore his legendary war spear Gungnir to its old glory. He succeeds, but before he can get any use out of it, Mad Sweeney spirits it away to the Sun's Treasurenote  as a final "fuck you" to Wednesday before he dies, thus removing the weapon from Wednesday's grasp.
  • All Myths Are True: Since human belief creates the supernatural, everything that anyone has ever believed in is true somewhere. Every god exists, as well as jinn, leprechauns, and countless variations of Jesus. In "Lemon Scented You," Media mentions that due to the panic caused by the 1938 radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds and stories like it, there are now aliens waiting in the stars.
  • The Almighty Dollar: A divine figure called the "Bookkeeper" is a god of money, older than most of the gods, and served by three Penny Scouts.
  • American Title: Of the descriptive variety, since the story's setting in the USA is crucial to the plot.
  • Anachronism Stew:
    • The opening sequence represents the tone of the show by combining traditional religious iconography with high-tech gadgets and lighting, as well as imagery associated with American culture. The crucified astronaut deserves special mention.
    • In the second "Coming to America" sequence, Anansi appears to a group of captured native Africans in his modern form, wearing a suit and speaking English. The implication is that he is shown to the audience in a more comprehensible form.
  • "Anger Is Healthy" Aesop: Exploited. Mr. Nancy appears to the captives aboard a slaver ship going to America. He riles them up from their state of despair ("This guy gets it. I like him. He's getting angry. Angry is good. Angry, gets shit done.") by telling they are staring down the barrel of "300 years of subjugation, racist bullshit and heart disease". He encourages them to go up, kill the crew and burn the ship down so they can at least die as a worthy sacrifice. In reality, Mr. Nancy is a Trickster God who wants that sacrifice.
  • Animal Motifs: A recurring theme among the Old Gods and their associates.
    • Wednesday - true to myths - is heavily connected to a pair of ravens.
    • Anansi / Mr. Nancy is all about spiders.
    • Ostara and her bunnies, naturally.
    • Shadow has repeated nightmares involving a giant bison with Fireball Eyeballs.
  • Art Shift: The "Coming to America" segment that opens "Lemon Scented You," which depicts the arrival of prehistoric humans and their god to America, is done entirely in CGI.
  • Ascended Extra:
    • Mad Sweeney has a larger role, as we see him desperately trying to get his lucky coin back.
    • Laura Moon has an entire episode dedicated to her life before her death, something that is only described briefly in the book.
    • Some characters from the 'Somewhere in America' stories that are interspersed throughout the book play a bigger part in the show:
      • Salim and the Jinn only feature in one chapter in the book (with a throw-away call back later on), and never directly interact with the main characters. In the show they play major supporting roles: Salim has a long sub-plot with Laura and Sweeney in Season 1, and they both join the group in Cairo for Season 2.
      • Bilquis is promoted from starring in her own single stand-alone chapter to becoming an important supporting character, joining Wednesday's unstable group of allies in Cairo for the duration of Season 2.
  • Ass Shove: The final fate of Robbie's severed penis.
  • Astonishingly Appropriate Interruption: Done twice.
    • In the Season 1 episode "Come to Jesus", when Ostara makes her speech to her guests about the importance of Easter.
      Ostara: I think it's important for us all to remember what this day is really truly about, which is...
      [Ostara sees Wednesday]
      Ostara: ...for Christ's sake.
    • Another instance happens in the Season 2 episode "The Beguiling Man", during Laura and Mad Sweeney's car ride.
      Mad Sweeney: Where I'm from, it's the greatest sin. To betray your sworn true love is the crime of a coward...
      Laura: [in unison] Cow.
      [a cow suddenly appears in front of them, forcing Sweeney to quickly swerve]
  • Berserk Button: Lampshaded and discussed by "Low Key" Lyesmith and Shadow: Low Key tells Shadow the story of Johnny Larch, an inmate who tried to fly away after getting paroled, but since he refused to allow a airport worker to "disrespect" him by not taking his expired ID, he ended up thrown out of the airport, and soon back in prison. In prison, "not taking disrespect" is a survival mechanism, but it can get you into lots of trouble on the outside. Shadow comments that perhaps the lesson is that behaviors that work in a specialized environment like prison can be detrimental when used outside said environment. Low Key responds that the moral of the story is, "don't fuck with those bitches at the airport." Remembering this story keeps Shadow from breaking his parole by blowing his top at the rude ticket lady at the airport.
  • Badass Boast: From the least likely of characters.
    Technical Boy: You think you can ghost in my machine? I am mankind's greatest achievement. I am the compass rose. I am fucking binary. Without me, shit don't spin.
  • Batman Gambit: Season 3 reveals that Wednesday has been running one of these on Shadow. He has been feeding Shadow's ego, hoping that when the time comes, Shadow's pride and hubris will override his common sense and sense of preservation. Sure enough, with Wednesday dead, Shadow has himself bound to Yggdrasil, hoping to ascend to godhood. Instead, he dies, giving Wednesday the blood sacrifice needed for him to resurrect and come back stronger than ever.
  • Big Bad: Mr World, the leader of the New Gods. Though, as Mad Sweeney keeps warning people, Wednesday shouldn't be trusted either.
  • Black Comedy: The scene between Zombie Laura and Audrey.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: Much as the book. Both Old Gods and New Gods both treat humanity as tools, but the former are more sympathetic and at least can give things in return while the later are pure parasites.
  • Black and Nerdy: Thoth, although he doesn't consider himself black, that being a concept that postdates him.
  • Blatant Lies: Zorya Vechernyaya reads Shadow's future and rather unconvincingly claims he'll live a long life and have many children. Shadow is understandably unconvinced.
  • Blood Knight: Mad Sweeney likes to start fights for the sheer joy of violence and bloodshed.
  • Blood Lust: Czernobog is so enamored with the shedding of blood that he discerns between different types of meat and blood, such as the blood spilled by cows that are slaughtered early in the morning.
  • Bloody Hilarious: The Coming to America sequence with the Vikings, especially the ending.
  • Body Horror: Mad Sweeney's coin may have brought Laura back to 'life', but that does't include preserving her dead flesh. Even Mr. Jacquel's mortician skills can't do much to stop her from attracting flies and literally coming apart at the seams.
  • Botanical Abomination: Mr. Wood was originally an Old God worshiped by humanity when it began, having been a god associated with trees. When animistic belief dwindled and industrialization took hold, Mr. Wood foresaw that he would eventually cease to exist when he would be forgotten and, rather than dying, sacrificed his own trees and joined the New Gods. While only seen briefly disguised as a wooden desk at the police office with the knot opening to reveal a human eye, it soon comes to life and attacks Shadow, becoming a monstrous tree that implants a growing, parasitic plant into Shadow as a means of tracking him, only for Mr. Wednesday to remove it when they escape.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: A Viking's arm gets chopped off and literally goes offscreen, appearing on the upper black border of the letterbox instead of disappearing behind it.
  • Brick Joke: In "The Bone Orchard", Audrey tells Shadow that she had initially told the embalmer to "leave [Robbie's penis] where he found it", before reassuring Shadow that no, it is not still in Laura's mouth. Nevertheless, she says that she had him put it "somewhere special". In "Git Gone", we find out where it ended up: Robbie was buried with his severed penis shoved up his own ass.
  • The Cameo:
    • Hannibal alum Scott Thompson (who played Jimmy Price) appears in Episode 4 as a kind stranger and offers Mad Sweeney a lift, which he obliges. Unfortunately, he did this during a streak of bad luck for Mad Sweeney, and, less than a minute later, ends up with a metal rod through his skull.
    • Episode 5, "Lemon-scented You", features an appearance by Tracie Thoms, who played Mahandra on Wonderfalls. She is one of the detectives who pick up Wednesday and Shadow for robbing a bank earlier; unfortunately for her, this turns out to be a trap set by Mr. World and the New Gods, whose arrival leads to the death of all personnel at the police station.
  • Canon Foreigner: Greco-Roman gods didn't appear in the novel (although Medusa showed up a few times), but the show ends up introducing two major Greco-Roman characters: Corbin Bernsen as Vulcan and Christian Lloyd as Argus Panoptes.note 
  • Casting Gag:
    • 12,000-year-old pagan fertility goddess Ostara of the Dawn, who in the present day is a Stepford Smiler who is secretly furious over the fact that Christianity has co-opted her name and day of worship as Easter, is played by devout Christian Kristin Chenoweth.
    • In the commentary video for "Lemon Scented You," the producers said they wanted someone "Crispin Glover-esque" for the part of Mr World. Glover arrived at the breakfast meeting in a velvet suit and derby, and the way he greeted them was used for Mr. World's arrival in the interrogation room.
    • Once again in a Bryan Fuller show, Kristin Chenoweth's character interacts with a dark-haired dead girl brought back to life.
    • Season 2 introduces The Caretaker, the literal God of the Conspiracy Theory who had a hand in events such as Roswell and directly communicates with the President. He's played by Eric Peterson, whose most well known roles are from the Canadian Street Legal and Corner Gas. They cast one of the most Canadian actors they could find to play one of the most American characters ever conceived.
  • Category Traitor:
    • Mr. Wood was an ancient, animistic tree god. Instead of allowing his belief to die out entirely with the incoming industrialization of the world, he sacrificed his forests and joined the New Gods. He now operates under Mr. World's authority, killing the police officers that arrested Shadow and Mr. Wednesday and then attacking Shadow.
    • Vulcan adapted his war-mongering forge god skills and title to modern times and grew in power through the distribution of bullets, gun violence and the unsafe working conditions of his factory. Having grown comfortable with his new influx of faith, he secretly alerts the New Gods of Mr. Wednesday's involvement in his town.
  • Cessation of Existence: Laura believed this happens when you die, but is proven dead wrong when she's met by Anubis. The punishment for believing this is apparently being sent into "nothing" and "darkness". She escapes before this, though. Later, in season 3, she's proven doubly wrong when she dies for real and discovers that Purgatory is mostly eternity in a crowded waiting room.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: There's no censorship, and thus everyone swears profusely. Mad Sweeney in particular loves C-bombs. Laura Moon's scene in Purgatory in particular has her saying "fuck" so much the two people supervising her get annoyed.
  • Cool Car: Wednesday owns a beautiful black 1966 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham in mint condition that he and Shadow use to travel throughout the US. Its name is Betty, and driving it is one of the jobs Shadow was hired for.
  • Cool Sword: Vulcan crafts a massive one for Wednesday halfway into Season One. It's barely finished when he reveals his allegiance to the New Gods and gets beheaded seconds later with the very weapon he just forged.
  • Country Matters: Sweeney's attempt to intimidate Laura goes poorly after he calls her this in "Lemon Scented You".
  • Crucified Hero Shot: Mexican Jesus dies this way protecting undocumented immigrants, naturally enough.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death:
    • Laura kills one of the Technical Boy's minions with a kick in the nuts so strong it bisects him lengthwise and rips his bloody spine, including some ribs, out of what's left of his torso.
    • A man at the Vulcan plant dies by falling into a container of molten metal due to a faulty railing, with his corpse being turned into part of the bullets it churns out.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: One occurs in "The Beguiling Man", when Mad Sweeney and Laura take on the Black Briar train to rescue Shadow Moon. Two dozen trained mercenaries have no chance against a millennium-old leprechaun and an undead zombie wife with superhuman strength.
  • A Day in the Limelight:
    • "Git Gone" is all about Laura: her life, her relationship with Shadow, her affair with Robbie, and what she was doing in between her revival and her reunion with Shadow. Shadow is the only other main character to appear in the episode.
    • "A Prayer for Mad Sweeney" is this for, well, Mad Sweeney. Fully half the episode is Sweeney's extended Coming to America story, and the other half focuses on Sweeney, Salim, and Laura rather than Wednesday or Shadow. Emily Browning is the only other main cast member to appear in the episode, and she spends half of her screentime playing Essie MacGowan instead of Laura.
      • "Treasure of the Sun" is another one for Mad Sweeney, covering his origins and his wife and child.
    • "Donar the Great" is this for Wednesday's son, Donar/Thor.
  • Decomposite Character: In the book, Mr. World is Loki in disguise. Here, he's apparently an entirely separate being. However, the series never made it to the point in the story where this would've been revealed before being cancelled, so it's impossible to tell from the show as it stands whether they actually were decomposited, or whether the reveal was planned to happen, but never got to be filmed.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Bilquis has sex with both men and women, which is not surprising since that way there's double the food for her.
  • The Dragon: Media appears to serve as Mr World's chief enforcer.
    • Technical Boy takes over this role after Media is reformed into New Media.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Early in the first episode, Shadow has a dream of a strange forest, where a noose is hanging from a massive tree. At the end of the episode, the Technical Boy's minions try to lynch Shadow.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: The narrator of the "Coming to America" scene that starts the first episode is a spectacled black man, writing with a dip pen in a book. The man is Mr. Ibis, who will help the newly-dead Laura get a more life-like appearance, and the use of her arm back, three episodes later.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The New Gods are deeply embarrassed by the fact that the Technical Boy's goons lynched Shadow, and want to make it clear that they are not racist.
  • Excrement Statement:
    • After pushing Vulcan's decapitated corpse into the smelting vat, Mr. Wednesday proceeds to piss into the vat, saying that he is laying down a curse on the bullets that are being made from it.
    • Played with in Season 2, when Mr. Wednesday pisses onto the sprout of Yggdrasil to induce it to grow into its full size.
  • Faceless Goons: Literally - the New Gods' creepy goons look human in body but lack even the hint of a face. Media's have blank skin covering the area instead, and the Technical Boy's are encrusted in glittery gems of sorts. They can apparently be summoned at will out of thin air and they consist of flesh and blood, but it's never made clear how they perceive their surroundings and what exactly they are.
  • Fan Disservice:
    • Bilquis's sex scene in "The Bone Orchard" is very, very explicit, but it ends with her eating her date with her vagina.
    • The sight of Laura topless in "Lemon Scented You" isn't quite as appealing with her torso carrying the stitches left from her autopsy.
    • Almost every single sex scene featuring Laura can be counted as this, since she always appears deeply unhappy when they happen.
  • Fighting Irish: Mad Sweeney, the very Irish leprechaun, wastes little time before challenging Shadow to a fight. Turns out Sweeney was hired by Wednesday to make sure Shadow could fight if it was necessary - and possibly also some catharsis for Sweeney feeling guilty about his hand in Laura's death.
  • Filler: Aside from "House on the Rock", Season 2 is almost entirely composed of material not in the original novel, due to various production issues.
  • Firing in the Air a Lot: The citizens of Vulcan unload their guns skywards as a final salute to their factory's late foreman at the end of his funeral march. Wednesday dryly recommends Shadow to get back in the car when they witness it. The camera then shows hundreds of rising bullets coming to a stop above the clouds before falling down to earth and hammering scores of dents into Wednesday's Cool Car.
  • Flat-Earth Atheist: Laura doesn't give up her atheism even after seeing several gods, insisting they're not really divine but just created by humans (which is sort of the case). God singular, meanwhile, is not seen (but multiple forms of Jesus are) and it's him she most insists isn't a real being.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • It took the Vikings to make war in order to summon Odin's favor.
    • Just before the car accident that killed Laura and Robbie, a pair of blackbirds can be seen flying above the car. This foreshadows Mr. Wednesday's involvement in their deaths, as ravens are associated with Odin in mythology.
    • Mad Sweeney panics at the sight of the three banshees, since he knows they are a harbinger of his death.
  • Funny Background Event: Laura says Salim's cab smells like someone shat on the back seat. Salim says someone did shit on the back seat. The seat Mad Sweeney is currently sitting on behind them, and immediately starts inspecting in disgust.
  • Grief-Induced Split: "Conscience of the King" reveals that Wednesday left Demeter after a Tragic Stillbirth, not strong enough to cope with the loss of their daughter.
  • Gorn: The series positively delights in making deadly fight scenes so bloody it puts 300 to shame. Saying the blood is flying by the bucket is an understatement, and the limbs and body parts are close behind.
  • Groin Attack: Laura does this so often it almost turns into a Running Gag.
    • She was giving Robbie a blowjob seconds before the car accident. The resulting impact was enough to send them both flying through the windscreen, and whether from the force of the collision or brain damage, Laura unintentionally bites off Robbie's penis. This in turn reveals to Audrey and Shadow that their spouses were having an affair.
    • When Laura rescues Shadow from being lynched by the Technical Boy's minions, she kicks one of them in the groin with so much force that her foot continues all the way to his head, bisecting him in a welter of blood and kicking his spine plus some attached ribs out of his body.
    • In the final Season One episode, when Mad Sweeney is reluctant to answer her questions, she grabs him by the nuts, lifts him up and pins him to a wall one-handed. Not bad for a petite woman more than a head shorter than the Fighting Irish leprechaun, although, granted, she does have some unusual advantages when it happens.
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly: The fortunes of gods depend on how many people they have praying (or sacrificing) to them, often. A god can even die if they are completely forgotten. Of course, what counts as prayer largely depends on the god - Anansi just wants people to keep telling stories about him being clever, and Media gets power any time someone consumes media, to name a few examples. The single constant is that sacrifice, particularly Human Sacrifice, usually nets a god a lot of power.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking:
    • Technical Boy is iconic for his glass-pipe full of synthetic toad-skins.
    • In every scene he is in, Czernobog is seen smoking a cigarette. When he finishes a cigarette, he immediately lights up another one and continues with it. He is even offered a large box of cigarettes from Wednesday to bribe his hospitality.
  • The Hecate Sisters:
    • The three Slavic sisters all named Zorya are an elderly crone, a middle-aged woman and a virginal youth.
    • In "Treasure of the Sun", the three banshees follow this pattern.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Mexican Jesus dies placing himself in between undocumented Mexican immigrants and right-wing thugs shooting them while trying to cross the US border.
    • Nunyunnini tells his people to forsake him and assimilate with the locals, even knowing it means he will be forgotten and die, because otherwise they'll starve.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Laura, who didn't believe in God or an afterlife, and was depressed with her life despite her having Shadow (whom she cheated on while he was in prison). After she dies, Anubis claims she "believed in nothing". This is because she actively refused to believe in anything, not love, not her husband, not anything. In contrast, Shadow is a more evenhanded portrayal of atheism. He believes in plenty of things, but is skeptical of gods and the supernatural.
  • Hollywood Law: The detective in "Lemon Scented You" keeps asking Shadow questions even after he repeatedly asks for a lawyer, which means anything he tells her can't be used as evidence. However, she does make it clear that she's more interested in finding out who tipped her off than prosecuting two small-time swindlers.
  • Holy Halo: The various Jesuses almost always have visible halos behind their heads. Sometimes these are background halos, with in-universe justification, and sometimes they are inexplicable rays of light coming from nowhere.
  • How's Your British Accent?: Wednesday is first seen performing a con as a senile old British man. He's played by the similarly British Ian McShane.
  • Human Sacrifice: Gods get powered by worship and sacrifice, with human sacrifice being the most powerful form.
    • Vulcan sacrifices at least two of his workers each year to fall into the molten metal in his plant, and from everyone killed by the bullets produced.
    • Bilquis absorbs everyone she has sex with into her vagina. Her victims will be sent to some sort of nebula-like afterlife within Bilquis where they shall live in a state of eternal orgasm.
    • Wednesday refuses Mr. World's offer of sacrificing the entire country of North Korea to him in return for backing down.
    • "Human" is unclear, but Wednesday kills a group of The Children and dedicates their deaths to Easter, giving her enough power to defoliate North America.
  • I Die Free: In the "Coming to America" segment of "The Secret of Spoons", Anansi convinces slaves being shipped to America to burn down the slave ship and kill all the slavers, because it's better to die fighting for freedom than to live as a slave.
  • Impersonating an Officer: Shadow Moon pretends to be a Secret Service agent as part of a scam to help Mr. Wednesday steal a jacket owned by Lou Reed.
  • Indentured Servitude: The convicts transported to the Thirteen Colonies receive this as their sentence, for either a set number of years or life. Essie McGowan gets her master to free and then marry her.
  • I Own This Town: Vulcan's ammunition plant appears to be the primary employer and the center of the town it's in, and the man himself is obviously the one the inhabitants take their lead from.
  • Irony: Just after we see undocumented Mexican immigrants piously praying to God, many are gunned down by right-wing American fanatics who have crosses dangling from their weapons. Mexican Jesus sacrifices himself to protect those he can.
  • Jerk Ass Gods:
    • Anansi tells the slaves on the ship that even hundreds of years from then, the only possible future for a black man in America is to suffer and die, and the only thing to do to make their life worth anything is to just kill all the slavers and themselves as sacrifices to Anansi. He even shoots down the suggestion that they kill the slavers and steal the ship.
    • Vulcan owns a gun manufacturing plant in which No OSHA Compliance is in full effect. It's cheaper to settle with the families of the average of two people a year that die after falling into the vats than it is to bring the place up to code (which is by the way an intentional case of Truth in Television - when Gaiman got wind of this story, he considered this the closest thing to Human Sacrifice the modern age has). What's more, he explicitly gains power from mass shootings. Any time that someone is killed with his guns, it counts as a human sacrifice to him. Also, he's mean to Shadow.
    • According to Wednesday, this is one of his main issues with the New Gods; namely they are “all take and no give” in regards to their followers. The Old Gods might just be as cruel and uncaring of humanity, but at least they actually gave blessings and gifts for the worship they received.
  • Jesus Was Way Cool: The many forms of Jesus are depicted as nice, laid-back, selfless, all-around good guys — a stark contrast to most of the other divine beings. One Jesus feels terrible when Wednesday states that Christianity basically stole Easter from its Pagan roots.
  • Lady in Red: Bilquis, rather than in the trashy Street Walker outfit the novel describes, appears in an elegant red dress.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: Shadow's dead wife, Laura, being revived by Mad Sweeney's coin was a huge plot twist in the middle of the first season. Eventually, the plot point becomes a Late-Arrival Spoiler as the story progresses and she becomes more and more of an important character in the story.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Episodes usually start with a "Coming to America" vignette focusing on an old god, written by Mr. Ibis, but "A Prayer for Mad Sweeney" opens with Ibis and Jacquel having an unrelated conversation until Jacquel comments that Ibis has a story to tell.
  • Leprechaun: Mad Sweeney claims to be one, despite being several inches taller than Shadow, who himself is a large man. He's got a lot of the traits in common, including red hair and doing tricks with gold coins. He's also got the stereotypical Irish traits, including drinking, loving to fight, and having a hell of a temper.
  • Literal Metaphor: Laura says that Shadow is the light of her life. What she means is that, after her revival, she sees a golden aura surrounding Shadow that lets her always know where he is. In addition, when she kisses him, her heart starts beating briefly, implying that being near Shadow allows her to truly live again.
  • "London, England" Syndrome: The Egyptian gods, Mr. Ibis and Mr. Jacquel, run a funeral parlor in Cairo. Not Cairo, Egypt, by the way; it's Cairo, Illinois. The fact that they settled in an American town named after an Egyptian city, while being Egyptian gods themselves, is even lampshaded by Shadow.
  • Ludicrous Gibs: How Laura's first combat encounter ends up, with the Technical Boy's goons on the receiving end.
  • Magical Accessory: To give Dvalin the dwarf enough power to etch magic runes on the spear Gungnir, Mr. Wednesday must get a leather jacket worn and signed by Lou Reed himself.
  • Making Love in All the Wrong Places: Shadow has sex with Marguerite in the snow, of all places.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: The series doesn't shy away from penises:
    • Looking through Laura's phone Shadow finds a dick pic sent to her by Robbie, and we get a good view of it. The same pic is then imagined as a nicely framed photo on a desk.
    • The jinn which has sex with Salim is shown full-frontal, apparently to prove that Bigger Is Better in Bed, as the sex seems to literally transcend realms.
    • Bilquis' first on-screen victim can later be seen floating through space with his boner prominently displayed.
    • In "A Prayer for Mad Sweeny," Anubis is preparing a body for a funeral, and the dead man's penis is fully visible.
  • Meaningful Name: As in the book, several Old Gods have meaningful aliases, making it not much of a big surprise when their godly identities are revealed. Mr. Jacquel and Mr. Ibis are Anubis and Thoth, named for animals sacred to them, while Mr. Wednesday and Low-Key Lyesmith are Odin and Loki.
  • The Men in Black: Black Friar, a secret government surveillance group under the orders of Mr. World.
  • Messy Maggots: As a zombie, Laura keeps coughing up big wet chunks of white stuff that turn out to be clumps of maggots.
  • Mundane Afterlife: A portion of Laura's second afterlife. It's a vaguely modern lobby where everyone who's ever gone to Purgatory sits and waits for the color of the ticket they were given upon entry to be called so they can pass on to the next section of Purgatory.
  • Modernized God: The New Gods would go to the various Old Gods remaining in America - rendered powerless due to lack of worship - and "rebrand" them to better suit the modern era.
    • Bilquis was once a Goddess of Love in modern-day Iran before Islamic extremists destroyed her altars and drove what was left of her followers to America. Found homeless by the Technical Boy, she derives from a Tinder Expy.
    • The Roman god Vulcan, god of fire and blacksmithing, refashioned himself as a god of firearms to capitalize on the American obsession with guns as a source of worship and power.
    • Ostara, Germanic Goddess of Spring and the Dawn, now shares her festival (and all of the traditions that came from it) with Jesus in the form of Easter.
    • Argus Panoptes was a many-eyed giant that served Olympus. In America, he has since become the god of Sinister Surveillance.
    • Mama-ji, commonly known as Kali, sustains herself by working as a waitress in a chain of diners.
    • The Norse god Tyr, whose main tale is about putting his hand between the fangs of the wolf's maw, now earns his life as a dentist.

  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: A man lets a hungover Mad Sweeney hitchhike on his car to Milwaukee out of the kindness of his heart. Unfortunately, Sweeney is cursed by extraordinary bad luck after accidentally giving his lucky coin to Shadow, and this bad luck causes a horrific car accident that kills the kind man.
  • No OSHA Compliance: The Vulcan plant has faulty railings up above the molten metal containers which results in one person a year falling in and dying. They're not fixed for two reasons: it's apparently cheaper to settle with the family, and it gives Vulcan a sacrifice. He eventually has his body dumped in one himself.
  • The Nth Doctor: Media is replaced by New Media due to Gillian Anderson quitting the show in Season 2.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity:
    • Wednesday is introduced pretending to be a senile old man to guilt-trip an airline into upgrading him to first class.
    • Wednesday claims that Shadow does this: by not talking often, he tricks people into thinking that he's merely Dumb Muscle.
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse: A variant. Mister World (representing the New Gods), offers Mister Wednesday (representing the Old Gods) a deal: In exchange for giving Wednesday a massive Human Sacrifice in the form of a military satellite named after him nuking North Korea, Wednesday will stop his plan to gain power in America. When Wednesday refuses the deal, the New Gods agree to leave peacefully, with the unspoken implication that they will then begin to prepare for war in earnest. Technical Boy demands to know why they don't just kill Wednesday now, while he's in their power. Mister World insists that Wednesday is old enough and has enough knowledge and wisdom that he deserves the respect of an honest deal instead of a Leonine Contract.
  • Off with His Head!: Wednesday decapitates Vulcan using the weapon the latter had just made for him.
  • Orgy of Evidence: Shadow and Wednesday are arrested for a robbery they committed in a previous episode. The police detective has them dead to rights but is worried because the evidence is primarily satellite photos of the crime in progress. The technology used is state-of-the-art and is what governments use to track terrorist masterminds. She wants to know why someone with access to top secret surveillance satellites would use it to track two small-time crooks. She is right to be worried, since the source of the evidence was Mr. World, who had Wednesday arrested so he could offer him a deal that would prevent the coming war between the Old Gods and the New Gods. All the cops are massacred by Mr. Wood so there are no witnesses to the meeting.
  • Or Was It a Dream?: Zorya Polunochnaya turns the moon into a silver coin which she gives to Shadow to protect him. She then tells Shadow to wake up, and he does. Shadow dismisses the encounter as a dream until he realizes that he has a very familiar silver coin in his pocket.
  • Our Gods Are Different:
    • The gods are numerous and extremely diverse in nature. They are all creations of the human imagination, and their health and status are subject to this. No god is powerful because of their basic nature; nor does their age give them an advantage besides wisdom gained. All of them derive power from worship and Human Sacrifice. A god can also continue to live while powerless so long as they are at least remembered by somebody, if not worshipped.
    • Unlike many stories involving the supernatural (where for example, the Christian god is seen as above and stronger than other lesser pagan gods), no god is more special than any of the others. Many humans worship Jesus, but this created many different versions of 'Jesus-gods' because there are so many different human interpretations of him. The new gods like Technical Boy, Media and Mr. World are not known as gods by humans in the way Odin or Vulcan would be, but they are still sustained and given power by the human belief in what they represent. Gods wax and wane with human belief in them; they are essentially dependent on humanity for their survival.
    • The old gods are all about using their power to reward worship and sacrifice as the "ancient bargain", but the new gods are content to simply live off human belief while offering nothing.
  • Out with a Bang: Shadow's wife Laura died while giving a blowjob to another man (he was driving at the time, and they crashed). Bilquis also devours people while having sex with them.
  • The Perfect Crime: The casino heist that got Shadow sent to prison was Laura's "perfect plan," using years of knowledge of the casino and its employees to figure out exactly how to rob the place. It's never shown exactly what went wrong, but Laura is convinced that her plan was not at fault. She eventually deduces that Wednesday screwed it up in order to get Shadow.
    Laura: When we robbed the casino, did Wednesday fuck up my perfect plan?
    Sweeney: Wasn't a perfect plan. Didn't account for divine intervention, did you?
  • Penal Colony: "A Prayer for Mad Sweeney" highlights how the Thirteen Colonies were once used this way for convicts from Britain, with the story of Essie McGowan.
  • Playing Both Sides: It is revealed that Bilquis was doing this, until the death of Zorya Vechernyaya pushes her to join Wednesday's side.
  • Plot Threads: The first season has two main threads, one following Wednesday and Shadow as they prepare for the meeting in Wisconsin, the other with Laura and later Mad Sweeney as they deal with her undeath situation. These convene in the final episode as both sets visit Easter's house on the same day.
  • Psychopomp: Anubis shows up as a psychopomp - he's introduced first by escorting an Egyptian Muslim woman into the afterlife. Then, one episode later, he tries to escort Laura into an Ironic Hell - only to have Laura pulled back suddenly into the land of the living as a kind of revenant. They meet again later - with Anubis in his mortal identity of Mr. Jacquel and his partner Thoth as Mr. Ibis. The two of them get Laura patched up somewhat, but Jacquel/Anubis warns Laura that once her business with her husband Shadow is concluded, she's going right back to the afterlife that's waiting for her.
  • Putting on the Reich: The citizens of Vulcan's town sport primarily black clothes, red-and-black armlets with Vulcan's symbol on it, a small army's worth of guns and an apparent dislike of outsiders, making them look like a Nazi enclave if there ever was one.
  • Reading Tea Leaves: With the lack of worshippers in America keeping them strong and prosperous, what remains of the Slavic Gods have resorted to doing odd jobs to get by. The Zorya sisters gain their living through fortune-telling, practicing tasseomancy using Turkish coffee as their medium. Zorya Vechernyaya insists on reading Shadow and Mr. Wednesday's fortunes when she agrees to let them into their house. Shadow's fortune is implied to be so horrible that even she can't properly lie about it.
    Shadow: Thought you were supposed to read tea-leaves.
    Zorya Vechernyaya: Tea is disgusting. [Zorya Utrennyaya glimpses Shadow's fortune. Shows it to Vechernyaya.]
    Shadow: So what does it say?
    Shadow: That bad, huh? Any good news?
    Zorya Vechernyaya: Your mother die of cancer?
    Shadow: Yeah.
    Zorya Vechernyaya: You no die of cancer.
  • Really Gets Around:
    • Shadow's mother had eighty-six sexual partners in her life, according to Mr. World.
    • According to Laura, before Shadow she slept with a ton of men.
    • Bilquis, as a Love Goddess, is naturally very promiscuous.
  • Right-Wing Militia Fanatic: The self-appointed border patrol who gun down undocumented Mexican immigrants, and the Nazi-esque group in Vulcan, Virginia (who may be connected - they have the same bullets at least).
  • Running Gag: Once Mad Sweeney accidentally gives his lucky coin away to Shadow, just about every scene he's in involves him being humiliated, injured or inconvenienced. Justified because the farther he is from his coin, the more misfortune befalls him.
  • Sacred Hospitality: The Old Gods take it very seriously.
    • Czernobog despises Wednesday but lets him and Shadow spend the night because Zorya Vechernyaya already invited them to stay. Wednesday also brings Czernobog traditional gifts of bread and cheese, and when he accepts the gifts, he officially acknowledges that Wednesday and Shadow are his guests as well.
    • One of the first signs that there is something wrong with Vulcan is that he keeps insulting Shadow and by extension Wednesday even though he has invited them to stay in his house. He then refuses to open a bottle of soma that Wednesday brought him as a gift.
  • Sarcastic Confession: When Wednesday and Shadow get arrested, Wednesday tells the cops the truth about the war between the gods, knowing full well that the cops will just dismiss it as the ravings of a senile old man.
  • Scout-Out: The Penny Scouts, gatekeepers for the Bookkeeper, are clearly modeled after the Girl Scouts.
  • Setting Update: A couple changes to the book are the result of the more than 15 years passing between its publication and the show starting, and the changes that would have resulted to the New Gods.
    • In the book, the Technical Boy is fat and pimply, with a black trenchcoat, meant to depict the image of a nerd as a basement-dwelling loser. In the TV series, however, he's thinner, with fancy clothes and hair and vapes, reflecting the more current "hipster douche" stereotype.
    • And in Season 2, Media is updated to be New Media, changing from the goddess of old TV shows, movies and musicians to a younger-looking goddess of Facebook and Instagram.
  • Sex for Services: Essie McGowan saves herself from transportation to the Thirteen Colonies and later death due to having sex with powerful men who have the ability to spare her (in the latter case by getting her pregnant, since they won't hang a pregnant woman). Then she gets her master to free her from her indentured servitude with the implicit promise of this if they get married.
  • Signs of Disrepair: A promotional image features the title as a hotel sign with some of the letters unlit; the illuminated letters form the phrase AM I A GOD.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: All protagonists, Laura included, swear up a storm in just about every episode, dropping Cluster F-Bombs like they're going out of style. The New Gods are somewhat more civil in their language, but even they get in on the fun occasionally. Even Easter, despite her socialite demeanor, swears instinctively whenever Wednesday is around.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance:
    • Essie's life of crime and punishment in the 18th century is accompanied entirely by 1950s doo-wop pop songs, though the actual lyrics sometimes relate in some way to what is occurring.
    • The first scene at the Vulcan factory opens with "Come On Get Happy" by the Partridge Family. It starts out as appropriate enough, but one faulty railing at the forge makes it dissonant very quickly.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Bilquis (explicitly) and Salim (implicitly) are killed off in the book after only appearing in a chapter or two each. Thanks to their Ascended Extra status, they both make it much further in the show.
  • Spoiler Cover: In this case, Spoiler Vanity Plate - Bryan Fuller's production company is called Living Dead Guy Productions, and their plate includes a depiction of a hand poking out of the ground, sometimes holding something. (For example, Hannibal has a plate where the hand is holding a fork with an eyeball speared by the tangs.) Here, the hand is holding a coin - specifically, the Golden Sun coin. When you realize Shadow left the Golden Sun on top of Laura's grave, it becomes a hidden spoiler that Laura will come back from the dead.
  • A Storm Is Coming: The trope is mentioned several times in reference to the developing hostilities between the Old and New Gods; it's also used as a visual motif, with most external shots featuring massive storm clouds waiting to break over the land.
  • The Strongman: Donar (Thor) worked as a professional strongman for his father's burlesque troupe in the 1930s, later to be hired by the Friends of New Germany as their weight-lifting champion.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • As Laura tells Shadow when they first meet, robbing a casino will get him prosecuted—casinos take theft very seriously, they have a lot of cameras and people watching, and it's really not worth trying it.
    • When Shadow and Wednesday first arrive in Vulcan's town, they find themselves at the end of a funeral parade in honor of a resident and employee who'd recently died. The parade ends with everyone in it repeatedly firing shots into the air, so once they're done, Wednesday tells Shadow to get back in the car before the inevitable rain of bullets—after all, what goes up has to come down.
  • Surveillance Drone: Argus tries to spy on Shadow with this... until one of Wednesday's ravens takes it out.
  • Take That!: The self-appointed border patrol thugs murder several devoutly Christian Mexican migrants... along with Mexican Jesus. This obviously symbolizes that their hate of illegal immigrants is far stronger than their supposed Christian values.
  • There's No Kill like Overkill: The "Coming to America" prologue shows, among other things, the Vikings' first contact with American Natives. It begins and ends with one of the Vikings being peppered with arrows. Many arrows. When he finally drops dead, there's not a square inch on his silhouette without at least one arrow embedded in it. To top it off: not a single shot missed. The Vikings are suitably freaked out by their comrade's gruesome fate and wisely decide to steer clear of the forest where the murderous bombardment came from.
  • Team Switzerland: The Bookkeeper — the Anthropomorphic Personification of money — refuses to ally with either the Old Gods or the New Gods in their upcoming war, as there is little opportunity in choosing one over the other.
  • Train Job: Occurs in "The Beguiling Man" when Laura and Sweeney rescue Shadow Moon from the Black Briar forces.
  • Trashy Tourist Trap: Roadside attractions are built in places that people feel hold some special significance, making them Places of Power according to the belief-based cosmology the series runs on, hence why gods will convene to them for matters of importance. Even then, Wednesday implies for as fulfilling as humans find in them, it leaves them with a sense of profound dissatisfaction. The only exception to this we see in the series is The Center of America Motel, a place that actually isn't at the exact center (the pig-farmer wouldn't sell) and is so devoid of that transcendent spark that the gods like to use it as The Neutral Zone.
    Mr. Wednesday: Roadside attractions! Where they buy that hotdog and they buy that t-shirt and they wander around feeling satisfied on some level that they cannot truly describe and profoundly dissatisfied on a level beneath that.
  • Tulpa: All gods, mythical creatures and supernatural beings are created by the beliefs and imagination of humanity. They need belief, worship, sacrifice and prayer in order to maintain and restore their powers, strength, health and vitality.
  • Wham Line: From "The Bone Orchard":
    Audrey: Holy shit, Shadow. Nobody told you? [Laura] died with my husband's cock in her mouth.
  • Wham Shot:
    • Two in the first episode.
      • The coin Mad Sweeney gave Shadow which he in turn leaves on Laura's grave shines with an eerie light before being swallowed into the earth.
      • Shadow staring on in the aftermath of a bloody massacre of the men who beat and hung him.
    • In "Head Full of Snow", Mad Sweeney opening up Laura's coffin and finding it empty, immediately followed by Shadow entering his hotel room and seeing a very-much alive (well, sort of) Laura waiting for him.
    • "A Prayer for Mad Sweeney" reveals that not only was Sweeney responsible for Laura's death, he did it on Wednesday's orders.
  • Whole Costume Reference: The outfits worn by the Technical Boy's goons are modeled after the outfits Alex DeLarge and his droogs wear in A Clockwork Orange.

Alternative Title(s): American Gods


Mr. World

New God of Globalization, and leader of the New Gods. He knows everything about every person, and tends to leave destruction in his wake.

How well does it match the trope?

4.6 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / TheModernGods

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