In an age of televised weirdness, American Gods (Starz) might be the weirdest show on television. Surreal and sensual, with an intense and dreamlike vibe, it's a contemporary fantasy series that demonstrates how ambitious prestige television has become. Showrunner Bryan Fuller uses the show as a platform to explore the evolution of the American idea—and the ways that the nation's eccentricities and passions have shifted and conflicted over time.
Based on Neil Gaiman's Hugo- and Nebula-winning 2001 novel of the same name, American Gods tells the story of Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), a man who is released from jail and finds himself on an unlikely cross-country road trip in the employ of a mysterious con man named Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane). The pair make stops throughout the country, encountering a cast of ancient oddballs. At the same time, Moon is contacted through magical means by a number of other, younger operators, each with their own agenda.
Each episode, meanwhile, begins with a flashback to a formative moment in the American past: Vikings landing on the coast for the first time, say, or slaves praying and burning the ship on which they are being transported.
It turns out that Wednesday is no con man, but the god Odin, brought to America by Vikings but dwindling in power as Americans cease to believe. Odin is leading a war between the old gods and the new—the deities of technology, media, and globalization—and Moon is caught in the middle.
It's a show about America's enthusiasms and errors, its character and characters, that comes alive as a series of dreamlike vignettes—a tone poem about a nation and the battle for its beliefs.
It works for the material: America, after all, is a pretty weird place.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "American Gods".