While executive producer Neil Gaiman may have grandiose plans for three more seasons of American Gods at Starz, the television adaptation of his 2001 fantasy novel has endured a great deal of seemingly divine intervention since airing its first season last year.
Showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green exited the show after the pair had reportedly completed about half of the season two scripts. Cast members Gillian Anderson and Kristin Chenoweth subsequently left, and after stepping in as the new showrunner for a time, Jesse Alexander was asked to leave the series. Gaiman, who was already spearheading Amazon’s adaptation of his and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens, stepped in to salvage things.
Despite all of this, American Gods showed up at the 2018 New York Comic Con with Gaiman and the cast to promote its return in 2019. (Ian McShane was not in attendance because, as Gaiman explained, he was busy “zapping kidney stones that he will be pissing out.”) They debuted the first trailer for the new season and, among other things, confirmed which sections of the book would be adapted for its current storyline.
Aside from an allusive comment Gaiman made about the cast’s “not compromising” during the second season’s production, however, very little was said about the showrunner shuffle at the American Gods panel.
Pablo Schreiber, who plays fan-favorite Mad Sweeney, mentioned Fuller’s name, which elicited a small cheer from the audience, but that was it. Speaking to the press afterward, Gaiman and the cast were slightly more forthcoming (and optimistic) about what had happened, and where American Gods would be going next season.
“My metaphor for season two is basically we’re back at the same school but we’re in a different classroom,” Yetide Badaki, who plays Bilquis, tells Den of Geek. “We have some different teachers, but we still have mostly the same schoolmates, as well as a few new people who came in from out of town.”
Emily Browning, who plays the once-dead Laura Moon, speaks with far less metaphor, though not before joking about being monitored by drones operated by Starz executives.
“If you had have spoken to me about it a few months ago, I would have been in a very different place with it. To be totally honest, I think we were all nervous about it in the beginning. We all loved Michael and Bryan, and this was their vision, so losing them was terrifying,” she tells us.
Gaiman himself spoke about the behind-the-scenes drama, though largely from the perspective of simultaneously running two different shows whose productions were taking place in wildly different time zones. He also explained his process working with Alexander early on in season two, but didn’t dwell on the nature of his dismissal from the series.
“Everybody knew I was going to be the showrunner on Good Omens, which meant that I wasn’t left a lot of time for American Gods,” he says. “Jesse came out to New Orleans, where I was at the time, and I spent two days briefing him on exactly what American Gods means. Not just what it is and what the plot is, but where we could take it in season two and what parts of the book we would be doing.”
While Gaiman’s comments help make more sense of the timeline (he was able to spend more time on American Gods after San Diego Comic-Con in July, and Alexander was asked to leave the show in September), they don’t necessarily explain what had happened. He did call the initial reports of Alexander’s being sidelined “bullshit,” but that was the extent of any explicit remarks about it.
Instead, Gaiman praises the show’s cast who, as he frames it, succeeded in defending their characters as initially contrived in season one despite apparent issues with new writers trying to change things up.
“We have a fantastic cast. They know who they are and they know who their characters are. They care about them. They’ve researched them. This is especially helpful when you’re getting new writers coming in, who might be a little wobbly on things that characters would do or say. The cast absolutely saw it and said, ‘No mate, the character wouldn’t do that because of this, this and this.’ So things would get rewritten and stuff would be fixed, thanks to them.”
Interestingly, Gaiman may have been referencing one of the more fantastic aspects of the initial report about Alexander’s removal, which claimed he and McShane would partake in “screaming matches” over the quality of the season two scripts. The finale was even totally scrapped. Talking about it now, Gaiman admits that he was more involved in the scripts for the final three episodes, but leaves it there.
Even so, the American Gods cast now seems quite confident in the work they’ve put into the new season. They’re also just as confident in Gaiman’s ability to steer the show out of its troubled water and into the much wider (and hopefully less dramatic) seas ahead.
“These characters were created by Bryan and Michael, so they’re based on Neil’s characters, but they’re different,” says Orlando Jones, who plays the African trickster god, Mr. Nancy. “I’m a lot like Nancy in the book in many ways, and I’m also not like Nancy in the book at all. Shadow Moon never got lynched in the books. He’s living in a different America today.”
“I think there’s a nuance there, and Neil really is the person that comes in and goes, ‘Stay on the theme, guys. The theme is here. Stay focused here.’ He’s a master storyteller, so why do anything differently?”
Browning is also quick to note that the loss of Fuller and Green after season one, and Alexander toward the end of season two, never really meant the end of the series. After all, so many other people were helping to make American Gods a reality.
“All of that went away after we saw a bunch of footage. We grew less worried after we saw a few rough cuts from the first few episodes, especially the stuff that Chris Byrne showed us,” she says. Chris Byrne, who served as the first season’s second unit director, is now the show’s producing director. He’s also, as Browning puts it, “the fucking hero of American Gods” and partially responsible for how amazing season two looks.
“He is the vision of the show. The way the show looks has always been thanks to him, and it’s still him. He is an angel, he’s our savior and he’s incredible. Seeing the stuff that he showed me, I was like, ‘Oh wow, we did it! This is our show and it actually looks kind of incredible.’ It was scary. We obviously had a huge road bump to get over, but I feel like we’re going to give you guys something really cool in the end.”
American Gods Season 2 premieres sometime in 2019 on Starz.
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