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American Gods never lived up to its potential – but it deserves a conclusion

The Neil Gaiman fantasy drama has been cancelled despite plans for a fourth season – but it's not a huge surprise Shadow Moon's story ended early.

American Gods

By Simon Button

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Back in January, when American Gods returned for its third season, Ricky Whittle promised us a rollercoaster ride culminating in a cliffhanger finale that would “probably drive fans mad and angry, because you need to know what happens next”.

Now fans are left wondering if they’ll ever get to know what happens next. As far as we’re aware, Whittle’s Shadow Moon is dead, as is his father Wednesday (Ian McShane), while Wednesday’s killer and Shadow’s back-from-the-dead wife Laura is a free woman. But have father and son really shuttled off this mortal coil or is it all part of a larger plan, as was hinted in a coda to the season three finale?

As Whittle told us, all would be revealed in season four – but now there isn’t going to be one. Just one week after that cliffhanger ending, Starz, which produces the show, has announced American Gods is no more, at least not in serial form. There may be a movie to wrap things up but that’s not been confirmed, leaving Ricky to tweet what seems like a rallying cry of “Gods don’t die unless they’re forgotten” and disciples to rant about being let down and left in the lurch.

I must admit, though, the cancellation doesn’t come as a big surprise. It must be a hugely expensive show to produce and, after a stunning first season, it meandered all over the place, leaving many viewers frustrated by its lack of narrative focus.

I’m not, I’ll confess, a devout worshipper of Neil Gaiman’s 2001 doorstep of a novel on which the show is based – more someone who thoroughly enjoyed the book but was never outraged by the liberties the showmakers took with its plot twists and character arcs. In fact, I welcomed new characters like this year’s Annie-Marie Hinzelmann (played by Julia Sweeney in what seemed like a homage to Annie Wilkes in Misery, minus the deranged fangirl personality).

The die-hards, though, have often expressed their displeasure about some of the more fanciful deviations from Gaiman’s original vision, even if the man himself was on board as executive producer. And Amazon Prime, the platform on which American Gods goes (or rather went) out on over here, doesn’t publish viewing figures but it’s likely they’ve been slipping since season two’s very blah reviews.

American Gods
Ian McShane, Ricky Whittle and Laura Browning in official artwork for American Gods season three (Amazon)

As I’ve said before, the first season of this epic saga about a war between the Old Gods and the New was flashy, ambitious, intriguing, a bit bonkers and compelling in its scale. But season two (which came after the departure of original showrunner Bryan Fuller) was a mess as it ditched tight plotting for an everything-but-the-kitchen sink approach that often had me yelling ‘Get on with it!’ at the screen.

Then Gaiman, who was largely absent from the ship on the second season because he was overseeing the screen adaptation of Good Omens, came back on board and American Gods was back on track. Or at least it started that way.

The first few episodes, with Shadow seeking to start a normal life in the quaint town of Lakeside after discovering his dad’s true identity, were tightly structured and linear, with a sense Shadow’s true destiny would finally be revealed.

And in the end it was. Sort of. But those pesky narrative cul-de-sacs began to creep in again, all that slo-motion action so beloved of American Gods directors became a drag and there was an orgy sequence (again in slo-mo, of course) that was so badly staged it made Eyes Wide Shut seem like the height of eroticism.

American Gods
Ian McShane and Ricky Whittle in American Gods (Amazon)

Said orgy was also pretty pointless – the sort of excess for excess’s sake the show increasingly came to rely on. And don’t get me started on the scenes between McShane’s Wednesday and Blythe Danner’s agriculture goddess Demeter, where his longstanding love for this romantic blast from his past turned the most malevolently mischievous of gods into a soppy sap.

When Laura killed Wednesday, AKA the Norse god Odin, it came as something of a relief. But is he dead for good or, being a god and all that, could he be resurrected in another form? Even a lapsed American Gods devotee like myself would love to know the answer. So please, Starz, let’s have a movie – in a two-hour framework that would put paid to maddening meanderings – to bring this bold, sometimes frustrating but often brilliant saga to a satisfying end.

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American Gods seasons 1-3 is streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Want something else to watch? Check out our Sci-Fi Hub or our full TV Guide.