“In many ways, Bryan and Michael leaving might have been a good thing,” reflects American Gods star Ian McShane, launching into a disarmingly candid discussion of season one’s successes and failures – and the show’s turbulent journey towards season two.
Hannibal and Star Trek writer Jesse Alexander was brought in as their replacement, but he too stepped aside in September 2018.
“I’m just glad that we’re back on the f**king air. Yeah!” says McShane, who plays con-man, trickster and ancient god Mr Wednesday in the drama, released on Amazon Prime Video in the UK. “If you enjoyed the first series, I think this is better, actually. Gets back to the book.
“I think the first series was provocative and visually exciting, and the stuff that Michael and Bryan added to it, but I think when I saw it eventually, I thought it just got a little too far away from the book.”
He highlights season one’s pacing issues: “You can’t keep on doing [the storyline] ‘coming to America’, you have to shift the narrative forward,” he explained. “It’s complicated, you can’t give too much away otherwise you’ll give it all away.
“On the other hand, you can’t cheat an audience. You can’t keep just teasing them. You have to give them something.”
McShane also has reservations about the interruptions to the main story in season one, including the penultimate episode which suddenly took us back in time to learn all about Mad Sweeney and an Irish girl called Essie.
“The audience is just getting used to going somewhere, then they get a whole episode,” McShane complains. “I think they needed to mix it up a little more.
“And good as it was, and provocative, and some of the visuals were very striking and great, I think this year you’ve got that as well in a different way, but you’re getting more of the story. Like – what are we actually trying to do here?”
Although McShane is keen to stress that Fuller and Green did a “fantastic job” of introducing the story and establishing the world of American Gods, he is also keen for season two to take a fresh approach.
“Bryan and Michael leaving might have been a good thing, in a sense,” he says. “They left some terrific ideas behind… [but] Gaiman wrote the book, and quite rightly said, ‘Can we get back to the book a little more?'”
As for why the showrunners left, McShane jokes about “hubris, money, greed” – but explains: “Lawyers came in, so you’ll never know the truth… you never know the reasons because they were all under gag orders not to talk about it.”
And what about Jesse Alexander, who stepped in to replace Fuller and Green only to be sidelined himself?
“You needed somebody who was willing to come in and sort it out and clean it and then, towards the end, be a little bit more creative,” McShane suggests. “And Jesse did his best, and it was fine up to a point. But then it became, ‘How do we end the show again? What do we do to set the stage for series three?'”
Still, he says: “It’s kind of good to have a bit of creative chaos.”
While Laura Moon actress Emily Browning says American Gods season two is “visually 100 percent the same show,” and Ricky Whittle says it has a “very similar feel,” losing Bryan Fuller and Michael Green has still resulted in significant changes to the storyline.
“When you have new people coming in, they’re always going to want to put their own take and spin on things,” says Whittle, who plays ex-convict and Mr Wednesday’s recruit Shadow Moon.
“When you’ve got new voices coming in, they need to figure things out with the established core that’s there, and the cast maintain that responsibility to keep continuity of character, and so we collaborate with the writers and the show writers and producers coming in, and hopefully push forward a story that is recognisable from the first season.”
However, he adds, “there were storylines and directions that were going one way, which have kind of segued a different way.
“Because at the end of the day, it’s a very famous award-winning book by Neil Gaiman. We have source material so it’s not like we’re struggling for ideas. We’re still trying to stay true to this book.
“We will deviate now and then with characters like Sweeney and Laura who never meet in the book; now they’ve got this incredible dynamic and this incredible thread that we really want to follow. So we’re going to continue in season two to follow the book – and beyond.”
American Gods season 2 returns to Amazon Prime Video in the UK on Monday 11th March, with new episodes coming to the service weekly