Warning: If you have not read “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman AND have not watched the TV Show version yet, DON’T READ THIS POST UNTIL YOU DO. There are major spoilers for both versions mentioned here, and I don’t want to ruin it for you before you read and/or watch them!
As you all know, one of my plans this year was to write up an analysis. I also mentioned, in that same post, that I wanted to write up a TV/Book comparison of “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman. Now that I’ve watched the TV show and read the book, I figured I could nail those two goals at once through this post as it’s a comparative analysis, comparing the differences I saw between watching the show and reading the book, and then give my opinion on which one I enjoyed more!
Unfortunately, as I wrote up this comparative analysis, I soon realized that it started leaning towards have more of my own opinion of comparing both books to each other, as opposed to a straight-up analysis like I did with “Nimona” or “The Black Swan.” I forget sometimes that we humans are biased beings. Because this comparison of sorts also contain aspects that are more my opinion on the TV series and/or the book rather than straight-up comparative analysis, this post is cross-categorized in both ‘Analyses’ and ‘Reflections’ for this reason.
Also, as I previously mentioned in the book review for “American Gods,” I know it’s not entirely fair that I am comparing only Season 1 to the book, especially since Season 1 does not consist of the whole book. Since Season 2 isn’t coming out until 2019, I’m just going to go ahead and compare Season 1’s elements with what the book had.
So, without further ado, I will be comparing every single thing I noticed when watching the TV show and comparing it to the book version! Here we go!
- Bilquis and Mad Sweeney aren’t dead (at least not yet)!
This is one of the major and most noticeable differences between the book and the show. While Mad Sweeney got killed off in the book as well as Bilquis, the both of them survive to the end of Season 1 and presumably onwards in the TV version (though we’ll see if they continue to stay alive in Season 2). This provided more time for them to shine in the TV show, as well as develop their characters more than they did in the book.
The expansion of their roles gave them more depth of character, with each of them having their own expanded background. Sweeney’s background expansion took up the entiriety of episode 7, for instance, while Bilquis’ backstory took up the first part of the Season 1 finale. Their expansion of backgrounds and roles led to them being much more active in the present-day storylines of the show, by having Bilquis be stuck in servitude to Technical Boy while Sweeney ended up having a crazy road trip with Laura and Salim (more on that in a later point). Sweeney gets more of this expansion of backstory and activity as opposed to Bilquis, but both of them still got expanded on overall, and most likely will be very active in Season 2.
- Salim and the Jinn’s plotline was expanded on in the TV version!
I already spoke of knowing this particular plotline being expanded on in my book review due to seeing spoilers on Tumblr, and you might have read my reaction posts to the episodes involving these two already, but I absolutely loved the way they expanded on this plotline in the TV series. Instead of ending things at the one chapter in the book where Salim and the Jinn meet, have their sexual encounter and end up switching their lifestyles, the TV show takes it a step further by having Salim temporarily involved in Sweeney and Laura’s storyline of them travelling to find Shadow. Salim literally fell in love with the Jinn to the point of using the taxi to drive across the country to find him, hence him sticking with Laura and Sweeney until the Episode 7. During this expansion of Salim’s role in the show, we got to see more depth of character in him as well as his relationship with the Jinn, and that was really nice to see that overall expanding depth.
As for the Jinn, we only see him in two episodes, with one of them being his encounter with Salim, but it appears he’ll be returning in Season 2. Comparing the TV version of the Jinn to the book version, they were actually quite similar (save for the TV version swearing a lot more compared to in-book, but it makes sense in context when you watch it).
I also heard that apparently two episodes of the first season had to be cut due to being unable to film at the House on the Rock, which was where Salim was headed. Hopefully when Season 2 comes out, Salim and Jinn get their reunion? Fingers crossed that nothing bad happens to them and that they get the happy reunion they deserve!
- Laura got involved with more characters!
Laura Moon got more involved with Salim and Sweeney for a few episodes (particularly episodes 5-7), which resulted in a very unlikely trio on a road trip together. Why? Because Laura wanted to find Shadow, and Salim wanted to find the Jinn. Also, Sweeney wanted to get his lucky coin back from Laura, because said coin is currently stuck within her body and is the only thing keeping her mostly alive. Honestly, those three could have a spinoff expanding on their road trip, and I would gladly watch it.
Speaking of Sweeney, Laura and Sweeney have a lot of screentime together, something that would have never happened in the book due to Sweeney being killed off so early. This helped to expand their characterizations overall, and give them more depth than they would have had in the books. I think it was a good change on the TV version’s part to have Laura increasingly involved with characters such as Sweeney and Salim.
Laura also has her own special encounter with the Jackal, which ends prematurely due to her coming back to life as shown in Episode 4, “Git Gone,” and her backstory is expanded upon, as well as the affair with Robbie, Shadow’s best friend.
- Shadow freaks out way more in the TV show than he did in the book version.
This is definitely justified, given that realistically one WOULD be freaking out a lot if you just got out of prison, lost your wife and friend and found out they had an affair, as well as having nothing else to do before suddenly being picked up by Wednesday and being thrown into tons of godly shenanigans.
Most people probably would try to make something of their lives in a more normal fashion, like live somewhere else and get a relatively less shady job, but…nope. Not Shadow. He gets pulled into shenanigans that definitely tests his sanity and life more than once (including him getting lynched in the very first episode). It makes one wonder why he didn’t freak out more in the actual book, compared to the TV show.
Since we’re still on the topic of Shadow in this point, he is also given some less-likable aspects in the TV version, specifically in Episode 4, “Git Gone:” Shadow meets Laura in a completely different manner, via him trying to cheat in a casino and her stopping him before he gets into serious trouble. However, despite this massive change, the TV show makes the resulting chemistry of this situation WORK between them, and so this change is a refreshing one, even if it does alter book canon slightly.
- The portrayal of sex scenes in the TV version followed how the book depicted them, completely.
The TV version gave a very good showing of how the sex scenes were depicted in the book. For instance, Bilquis’ first scene where she literally devours her fling during sex was definitely portrayed in a frightening way, with the dark shades and reds of the scene’s aesthetic highlighting that though the scene is erotic, it’s clear that even before the devouring happens that something is very, very off. In contrast, Salim and the Jinn’s sex scene was much more tender and romantic, with focus on both characters sharing this closeness and connection with each other. Overall, I think the cinematography of both scenes really helped bring those contrasts to life while keeping it true to the book’s tone.
- It’s obvious that certain scenes and character appearances from the book were changed in the TV version, but the changes were effective.
Going back to the example in Episode 1: The Bone Orchard, Shadow was literally lynched and only survived thanks to Laura. In the book, however, he was simply beat up a bit. That’s only one notable change out of quite a few that I won’t list due to the massive amount of spoilers in this reflection/analysis by now. Another notable scene change is how Bilquis’ first scene goes, and I’ll discuss this further in point seven.
The appearances of certain characters, most notably Easter/Ostara and Technical Boy (especially Technical Boy) were changed. Easter is portrayed as a rounder, chubbier woman in the books, while the actress playing Easter/Ostara in the TV version is clearly skinnier. As for Technical Boy, his appearance drastically changed as well from looking like the stereotypical internet junkie that lives in your basement to one of those scary teenagers that is incredibly, incredibly hostile and ready to send you internet trolls. Given that this is 2018 and the book came out seventeen years ago, I imagined they might make some character changes to adapt to the times and situations of now, and they did that effectively.
- The cliffhanger ending in the TV show season finale.
Granted, this was going to happen, given that this was only Season 1 and now we’ll get Season 2 in 2019, but the entire last episode of “American Gods” makes it feel like it will diverge heavily from the rest of the book’s canon material from here. Instead of the war being basically stopped before it happens in the book version, the war is literally going to end up happening in the TV version.
- Vulcan and Bilquis join the New Gods (and suffer terribly for it) in the TV version!
This is something that happens only in the TV version, as in the book version they did not do such a thing. I do find it understandable that the Goddess of Love and Sex would adapt to the modern times by using what is a god-version of Tinder to find her sacrifices quickly, while Vulcan rules a town that believes in the right to bear arms in the TV version, and even has a bullet-manufacturing factory, given that Vulcan is the god of the forge and all. Their modern adaptations make sense, and given the need for sacrifice, it was needed to keep them powerful and existing.
Unfortunately, all change comes with a price, and the TV show makes that very clear. Neither Bilquis nor Vulcan do so well, especially for Vulcan—Mr. Wednesday kills him the moment he finds out about Vulcan’s new allegiance. Bilquis, on the other hand, is now in servitude to Technical Boy, as he was the one that provided her the new means to get her victims in the present-day of the show. It’ll be interesting to see what unfolds with Bilquis in Season 2, if she’s seriously that stuck in servitude to Technical Boy and the New Gods as a result of her new changes, or if she’ll end up fighting back.
Overall, given these comparisons, which version did I enjoy more? The book? Or the TV adaptation?
It was tough to call, I admit. The numerous different changes the TV Show made with plotlines and characters compared to the book version made them both feel like separate entities rather than the TV adaptation being a TV adaptation.
Despite the changes, however, I think the TV Adaptation was more entertaining overall. I think it was a smart idea to change some of the characters (Technical Boy in particular) to match the times of the present and make the themes more relevant to today, rather than strictly adhering to what the book set up.
Feel free to comment on which ones you liked more! Also, feel free to point out any other differences between the book and TV adaptation that I might have missed!