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American Gods, Episode 1: A Show In Which You Can Believe

Viewers of the first episode of American Gods (Saturdays 9ET, STARZ) likely find themselves in the position of one of the two primaries: Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), the laconic ex-con who is first being introduced to the strange world of American Gods, or Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane), the man who has been living in this surreal universe for a long time. There is plenty in the premiere episode to entice both sets of viewers, who will likely make the leap of faith necessary to return for the second episode and beyond.

I am firmly in the Wednesday camp. My first-edition copy of American Gods, the Hugo and Nebula winning novel by Neil Gaiman upon which the series is based, was read for the first time when the book was released in 2001, and most recently over the past few weeks in preparation for watching the show and writing this review. As such, my standards for any adaptation, much less a big-budget, well-hyped premium cable adaptation, were high. The premiere episode more than lived up to my expectations, as I have seldom seen an adaptation as true to the book as this one.

Every important scene from the opening chapters of the novel, from Shadow’s release from prison, to Wednesday’s introduction on the airplane, to Shadow’s fight with Mad Sweeney (Pablo Shrieber) is there, as is much of the dialogue from the original novel. Even the Bilquis (Yetide Badaki) scene, which had the potential to be disastrous in this medium, was done, and done well. Long-time Gaiman fans will likely be satisfied with the fidelity of the story to the original.

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The casting, likewise, is masterful. McShane is compelling as Wednesday, and it is his charm and range that largely carries this episode. He is able to make the viewer believe in his con, even when said viewer knows the outcome. He is clearly having fun with the role, and his performance did more to sell me on the program than anything else that happened in the first episode.

Whittle seems born to play Shadow, and his laconic intelligence, moral compass, and gritty toughness form the perfect counterpoints to McShane’s Wednesday.

Even the minor characters are near dead ringers for the way I imagined them when reading the novel.

The show is far from just a nostalgia fest for long-time Gaiman-readers, however. There is plenty here that is new and interesting even to the most seasoned of Gaiman’s fans.

The episode is visually interesting, which is no surprise coming from something associated with Gaiman. Anyone who has seen even one of the pre-released teasers got a feel for the surreal atmosphere created by the show’s visual and audio aspects. But beyond the Dave McKean-esque credits and the cinematography of the dream sequences, there are a number of visual motifs which run throughout the episode that only those viewers already familiar with the source material will understand. For example, the imagery of gallows and hangings that run throughout the episode reflect as much on Wednesday’s true identity as the they do on the racial issues from America’s past that comprised a portion of the discussion about the show on social media during episodes airing Saturday night. One can only hope that writer/creators Bryan Fuller and Michael Green continue to utilize this type of dramatic irony to communicate with those familiar with the source material.

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Additionally, there are a number of scenes that have been updated to fit the times. As Gaiman, who is an executive producer of the TV program, discussed during a release event for his book Norse Mythology at Town Hall back in February, many of the deviations from the show’s source material were necessitated by the long gap between the book’s publication in 2001 and the show’s release in 2017. The scene when Shadow is kidnapped by Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) is a perfect example. Technical Boy needs to convey a cutting-edge image of the newest technology available, and the descriptions of him found in the book would not work in today’s environment. The scene, however, retains the spirit of the original (Technical Boy 2.0, if you will), as do most of the updates that are not letter-perfect adaptations of the novel.

Most of the adaptations are either of this nature, or, as Gaiman discussed at the same event, were necessitated by the switch in medium from novel to television. There are, however, a small number of deviations from the original that felt wrong. Chief among these is the portrayal of Audrey (Betty Gilpin), Shadow’s ex-wife’s friend. The scene between Audrey and Shadow at the graveyard deviates wildly from the corresponding scene, which takes place at the funeral, and completely changes Audrey’s character. While, according to an article published by the A/V club (http://www.avclub.com/article/neil-gaiman-why-he-asked-american-gods-cut-blowjob-254491) Gaiman was able to intercede with the show runners to keep Shadow’s reaction to changed Audrey true to his original character, the change seems out of place with the spirit of the show, and is an unnecessary distraction during an important character-building scene for Shadow.

There are other minor deviations that bothered me, including the opening “Coming to America” sequence—and I wish there could have been some acknowledgement of Shadow’s desire to take a bath–but overall, the adaptation is as true to the book as one could hope. Let’s hope that future episodes continue that fidelity, unlike, for example, Game of Thrones, which started out true to the source material, but quickly deviated from it in many of the key storylines.

Viewers in the Shadow camp—those who are coming to the show for the time— are likely intrigued, but confused, which is exactly where they should be after the first episode. The decision not to reveal the major conflict in the series (who is Mr. Wednesday preparing to fight; who are the “we” of whom Technical Boy speaks) does create mystery and suspense, but I wonder if there is enough grounding to hold viewers who do not possess the background knowledge of those in the Wednesday camp. Hooking these viewers is essential if the show is to become, as many have already predicted, the next big thing on TV.

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Still, I imagine that the quality of the acting described above will be enough to hold these viewers for a couple of more episodes, at least. The characters are intriguing, and these viewers will likely want to find out what happens to them.

Whittle’s portrayal of Shadow is tailored well for this purpose. As the show’s moral compass—ironic as he is an ex-con—he is the character in whom we are supposed to invest. He is believable enough, and charismatic enough to carry viewers through the delayed exposition as they, along with him, learn this new reality.

It is McShane, however, who is likely to carry the program, and through his dazzling performance is likely to be enough to make viewers forget what they don’t know until it is time for them to know it. By that time, they’ll be invested, drawn into his world, like Shadow, unable to leave.

The first episode of American Gods hints at the possibility of greatness. All of the elements are there, from spot-on-performances by the cast, to the spectacular visual effects and cinematography, to the perfect source material. Will the show deliver on the promise of the first episode? It’s impossible to prove for sure after just one episode, but it’s something in which viewers can surely believe.


Ari Rubin lurks in the shadows. You may have thought you saw him in the back of the bar, or going into the subway station, but when you looked back, he was gone. His fiction has appeared in Pif Magazine, Scrivener’s Pen, and The Hopper Review. His short story “White Collar Blues,” which originally appeared in Skyline, was nominated for The Carve Magazine/Mild Horse Press Online Short Story Anthology Award by the editor. He can be reached at: birdman33@gmail.com and on twitter as @thesurrealari .

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POWER RANGERS Review

Warning: Spoilers Inside.

What if the Goonies ended up in the movie Chronicle, gained superpowers that included Iron Man Armor and giant Transformer-esque robots based on prehistoric creatures that in the end form a Voltron?

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This is what you get.

And a Movie Adaption of this show:

has no business being as GOOD as 2017’s POWER RANGERS is.

We start the film introduced to the Ranger(s) during the The Mesozoic Era, as they make their last stand against a villainous Green Ranger who has brought the team to the brink of decimation.  We meet Zordon, an alien warrior and leader who is on his literal last leg as this villainous Ranger stands over him, ready to deliver a deathblow.

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Then, a meteor hits.  I am not quite sure if they insinuate that a intergalactic battle between Rangers brought forth the end of the dinosaurs, but as a continuing trend throughout the film, these details don’t really matter.  This story is about teamwork and the characters that populate that framework. So logic obviously takes  back seat to heart and character development.

Fast forward to the modern age and we meet Jason Scott (played by Dacre Montgomery), the inevitable and eventual team leader destined to wear Red, who is in the midst of a prank with what I believe to be the movie version of Bulk & Skull from the original series.

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I can’t confirm this one way or another, but here I am aiming to believe and stand by this theory.  Won’t matter, because these two aren’t seen or heard from again, not even during the detention scene where Jason ends up, swiftly after botching his get away from the police after said prank so awry.  And it doesn’t matter, it’s not their story either.

Here in detention Jason immediately makes friends with an ultra focused, socially awkward (‘On the Spectrum’ as he self proclaims) kid getting picked on.  Jason full on PIMP-slaps this bully before proclaiming ‘That’s weird Right’?  Which makes for a nice call back moment by the film’s end battle scene.  This is Billy Cranston (played by RJ Cyler), boy genius and eventual Blue Ranger.

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While Jason may be the leader and our eyes into this story, Billy is the HEART.  I can’t stress that enough.  Without the charm that RJ Cyler brings to the role and the movie overall, Saban’s POWER RANGERS would seriously be lacking.

In this detention, we also meet Kimberly Hart (Played by Naomi Scott), the popular one minute, brooding loner the next, female lead that unfortunately isn’t very well developed as a character, aside from very typical tropes for a teenage girl in a high school setting, see Exhibit A below:

Exhibit A:  tumblr_oeqigt7baw1thcic4o3_r3_1280

An agreement between new found friends Jason & Billy find them in  Angel Grove’s Gold Mine. powerrangers-1024x576

Through a series of events, run-ins and some mild stalking, our 3 already established teens meet Zack Taylor & and Trini Kwan (played by Ludi Lin & Becky G.) , Zack creeping on a spelunking Trini, both wandering the mines to clear their minds.  There may be some deeper meaning at play here, but you’re probably not watching this movie for deep meanings, when the stuff on the surface suffice.

Together they discover mystical glowing colored coins while Billy is inexplicably (they may have addressed it in some reference to making his late father proud, but it could have been a little more clear cut, overall forgiven) blasting at the mine.  One car chase and and train accident later;

our rag tag gang of mischievous teenagers are on their way to becoming superheros, experimenting with their new found powers and invoking sequences not unlike that in ‘CHRONICLE’.  Jumping gorges that would make Bart Simpson jealous.

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It’s in these sequences where I noticed how beautifully filmed this movie can be, at times in this mountainous landscape, the lense catches the sun just right and I think I’m in a Terrence Malick film and forget that Aliens, Space Witches and Robots and Dino Robots are not far off.

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In exploring these mountains the kids find  a spaceship buried underground and awaken a pudgy, yet versatile Alien Android named Alpha-5, voiced annoyingly but serviceably by Bill Hader.

rangers Alpha then awakens Zordon, who’s essence has been trapped in this sunken vessel and is portrayed very neatly now as a giant Bryan Cranston face that’s been pushed through a Classic Pin Art Grid.power-rangers8

After becoming formally acquainted, the teens are introduced to the impending doom they must face through a forced dream sequence that introduces them to Rita Repulsa, the aforementioned villainous Green Ranger and now seemingly Space Witch played rightfully and deliciously over the top by Elizabeth Banks.  She is seeking her Green Crystal coin, that helped make her the Green Ranger and gave her all of the Bryan Cranston smashing power she needs.

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But first, after being discovered coincidentally by Jason’s father on a fishing boat at the bottom of the sea, she sets out on a crusade for Pure Gold, not only to rejuvenate herself but also to build a giant monster named Goldar, which fans of the show will remember as being this guy:

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Who get’s an upgrade to look like this: giphy2

Good thing Angel Grove was built around a Gold Mine!

Meanwhile, the Rangers struggle to work together in their training and must find the missing component to allow them to Morph into their new Iron Man-seque armor.  They are put to the test fighting living rock creatures that are known to be Rita’s minions.

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After numerous failed attempts, Billy finally morphs during a heated argument between Jason and Zack.

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The rest of the gang turns to him to find out how,

and HERE is where the movie’s true message ends up shining through during this scene; becoming friends.  This movie forces our teens to ACTUALLY & Genuinely become friends and to care about one another to succeed, not just for the sake of their new found abilities and duties in saving the world.

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These kids EARN the power that is bestowed upon them and it shows, just as much as these ACTORS earn their roles and hopefully continued success as they’ve masterfully embodied these characters wholeheartedly.  No one is phoning it in here in this movie and that’s pretty awesome for what some may consider to be just a reboot of a silly old kids show from TV.  The bar is raised a bit and you won’t even notice because at this point you are too involved and having too much fun.

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In the last third of the movie, things pick up the pace and much like this review rushes to the end, so we can get to piloted Prehistorically Based Robot creatures

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and it all moves rather quickly leading up to a giant battle in the downtown streets of Angel Grove that will invoke more from VOLTRON

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or Sym-Bionic Titan

*Required Viewing

We’re then treated to a Giant Robot Kaiju smackdown that TOHO PICTURES or Guillermo del Toro would be proud of.

Bottom Line: If you don’t have a stick in your butt, go to the theater this weekend, and have some fun and embrace the nostalgia filtered through a ‘Dark Knight’ lense.

Doctor Who: The Return of Doctor Mysterio—Good, But Not Quite Super

Look up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a Tardis? Doctor Who returned, after a full-year absence, with its annual Christmas special, a rollicking superhero-themed romp through the streets of—and skies above—New York. The episode is fun, and is one of the stronger in 12th doctor Peter Capaldi’s run, although it is not quite “super” enough to be considered an all-time classic.

The episode opens with The Doctor hanging outside the window of a young boy who is obsessed with superhero comics. Through the usual Doctor Who hijinks—escalated by the comic book-y idiom of this particular episode—that young boy eventually becomes “The Ghost,” a masked vigilante who protects New York City. Many years later, the two cross paths again, as The Doctor and The Ghost battle brain-swapping aliens intent on taking over the world.

The episode is replete with superhero references, both subtle and overt, and these allusions reflect both the strengths and weaknesses of this particular Christmas special. The story is essentially a Superman parody, and some of the Superman references, both in the dialogue and visually, are extremely clever, but some of the other allusions—especially to Spider-Man and other well-known comics that really have nothing do to with the comic-book source material that directly influenced this particular story—stick out. It’s almost as if writer Steven Moffat doesn’t entirely trust his audience and wants to make sure his viewers know how clever he is.

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The episode is strongest when it deals with what Moffat calls the “superhero love triangle for two,” between The Ghost, Grant (his secret identity), and Lucy Fletcher, a reporter for The Daily Chronicle. Justin Chatwin, who plays The Ghost, and Charity Wakefield, who plays Lucy, have excellent chemistry in both halves of their relationships, and the scenes between them crackle with the perfect amount of romantic tension and dramatic irony.

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Peter Capaldi’s performance is, predictably, strong. He excels as the “older mentor” and “third wheel” in this episode, and the script is perfect for this version of The Doctor who plays better as the crazy old guy than he does as the brooding old man who has been featured in the majority of his tenure as Doctor. Now freed of the darkness of Clara’s denouement, Capaldi is able to fully embrace The Doctor’s alien nature. Unlike his two immediate predecessors, who, although eccentric, were passable, relatable humans, Capaldi’s Doctor’s maniacal otherness allows for a resolution that none of the other “new Who” doctors would have even considered. The most significant development of this year’s Christmas special may be Capaldi finally finding his Doctor’s true personality.

The extreme alien nature of The Doctor makes the companion’s role even more important than usual, and in this role, a new star has been born. Matt Lucas reprises the role of Nardole, who has, in the year since last year’s Christmas episode, been “reassembled” by The Doctor. Lucas plays the role with the perfect blend of humor and psychological insight into The Doctor’s character. He shines as the humanizing element, and his very presence foreshadows the episode’s resolution. I won’t say anymore because, well, spoilers.

The new monsters, however, are a bit disappointing. While they do possess a certain creepiness, they don’t have the screen presence of either the Tennant era Weeping Angels or the Smith era Silence. While the episode forebodes a role for them in the upcoming season, it is unlikely that they become the 12th Doctor’s signature addition to the program’s rogue gallery.

Similarly, the episode’s resolution is a bit underwhelming. Everything turns out about how it should to tie up the superhero story and prepare the viewers for the next phase of the Doctor’s journey, but this feels predictable for The Ghost and Lucy, and the big reveal for The Doctor relies heavily on prior knowledge from past episodes rather than being contained within the universe of this Christmas special. The necessity to call in UNIT to clean up the mess at the end of the episode reflects some major plot holes beyond those one would except in a typical Doctor Who episode, even one which lampoons the superhero genre.

Overall, this was a strong episode, even if it is not quite super. The excellent performances from the principal actors, along its full embrace of the superhero oeuvre, make it a lot of fun to watch. Fans will likely remember it fondly, and look forward to “The Return of  Doctor Mysterio” each year as it re-airs as part of the marathon leading up to the year’s Christmas episode.


Ari Rubin lurks in the shadows. You may have thought you saw him in the back of the bar, or going into the subway station, but when you looked back, he was gone. His fiction has appeared in Pif Magazine, Scrivener’s Pen, and The Hopper Review. His short story “White Collar Blues,” which originally appeared in Skyline, was nominated for The Carve Magazine/Mild Horse Press Online Short Story Anthology Award by the editor. He can be reached at: birdman33@gmail.com and on twitter as @thesurrealari .