Since it was released in 2001, Neil Gaiman's conceptually complex novel American Gods has been screaming out to be adapted onto screen. It not only presents a truly original fantasy idea - as Old Gods that represent knowledge, wisdom and culture gear up to fight New Gods who embody media, technology and the dominion they have over the contemporary world, it boldly tackles themes of immigration, racism and sexism too. Topics that could not be more relevant nowadays.
The episode opens with a sequence that seems unconnected at first glance, as a ancient story is read aloud by a narrator. It sees almost Viking-like Slavic travellers stumble across a secluded island which they soon discover is rather deadly and uninviting. Knowing that they have to flee, but unable to do so given the lack of movement in their boat's sails, the men obscurely discover that escalating violence corresponds with how much wind there is. Thus, by inflicting grisly injuries upon one another, they manage to get off the island - and inadvertently create a God of War who fuels himself on death and destruction.
American Gods then jumps to present time, where Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) acts as the show's reluctant guide. The more he learns about this world of Old and New Gods, the more the audience do too. Not that you'd necessarily know that's where the story was headed at this stage if you hadn't of previously read the synopsis...
We meet him on a particularly devastating day, having just learned that his wife (Emily Browning) died in a car accident along with one of his best friends. The only silver lining? He's being let out of prison early to attend the funeral.
Desperate to get back to Eagle Point, Indiana, Shadow ends up on an overbooked flight and finds himself sat next to a mysterious man named Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) - where the latter ominously offers him a job. "I've got a job waiting for me," Shadow declines, but Wednesday's murmur hints that he probably doesn't...
When the plane lands, the two part ways and Shadow hires a car and drives the extra miles back to where his wife formerly lived. Mid-way through his journey he stops at Jack's Crocodile Bar; where he unexpectedly bumps into Wednesday again. After some particularly persuasive conversation, Shadow accepts Wednesday's terms of employment and agrees to be his errand boy-turned-bodyguard, so long as he doesn't have to "hurt anyone for fun."
Not much else happens apart from that premise-setting exchange, as this is the first instalment of eight after all. But for a pilot, there's a smorgasbord of brilliant secondary characters introduced; each one ineffably intriguing. At this stage, it's not too obvious which one's are going to be the biggest players going forward either. However, that being said, 6ft 5" "Leprechaun" Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) and Bilquis (Yetide Badaki) are certainly scene-stealers.
The former makes his debut at Jack's, goading Shadow into taking part in a bloody brawl just for "the sheer damn delight of it". His involvement in the story overall isn't clear yet - he comes across as a mere caricature of what people around the world might think of Irish men; all ginger-haired, boisterous and never too far from a pot o'gold. Seriously. But it's clear he's going to be one to watch.
Bilquis' scene is a lot more out there. After meeting an unsuspecting man in a bar, she leads her suitor to a candle lit red room and the pair start having sex. The whole thing is best left to be watched with fresh eyes but let's just say, the man disappears and we'll give you one guess as to where he ended up. (Clue: It's strangely empowering and you will NEVER guess it right).
It's as much about 'Coming to America' and the ever-changing ideals of the US, as it is about the inevitable war between the Gods and that's what makes the show so captivating. Avid readers of the book might have been doubtful that an adaptation would ever do the rich material justice, but upon seeing first episode 'The Bone Orchard,' it's evident that showrunners Michael Green and Bryan Fuller understand how to bring this story to life.
With Fuller, the visionary behind the wonderfully daring television series Hannibal, it's unsurprising that American Gods is stunning to look at; an electric neo-noir drama that makes even a man being chopped in half look oddly beautiful. And when his visuals and dream-like sequences elevate the show to often dizzying heights, Green's side of the script slaps you back down to Earth with both gore and poignant, hard-hitting observations of humanity... or more accurately, lack thereof.
With both a plot and cast this commanding already, episode two can't come soon enough. We've got a feeling we ain't seen nothing yet.
American Gods airs in the US on Starz on 30 April. It will be available to watch in the UK on Amazon Prime Video on 1 May.