‘American Gods’ series premiere: Emmy voters, take notice of Starz’s stylish new drama

Premiering April 30 on Starz, just in time for Emmy eligibility, “American Gods” is what one would expect from showrunner Bryan Fuller adapting a contemporary-set fantasy novel by Neil Gaiman for premium cable in 2017. Although he has never stepped directly behind the camera, sticking instead to writing and producing, Fuller’s shows have a distinct aesthetic and sound that have become increasingly stylized over the years. Emmy voters, we urge you to take notice.

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Based on the four episodes that were provided to the press of the eight-episode first season, “American Gods” very much feels like a hypothetical fourth season of Fuller’s last series “Hannibal,” despite an entirely different story and characters. “Hannibal” started as a crime procedural, but it became increasingly abstract as it progressed, eschewing cases-of-the-week for the likes of a teacup shattering in slow motion or sex depicted kaleidoscopically. Reception to the narrative evolution of the series varied, but the series’ quality as a visual feast was undeniable.

Perennially on the verge of cancellation throughout its run on NBC from 2013 to 2015, “Hannibal” never caught on commercially or with industry awards and it now ranks among the Emmys’ greatest blind spots of this decade. The third and final season received no Emmy campaign at all from NBC, who left it up to the individuals who worked on the show to submit themselves (and only some did). It received a lone nomination for Best Supporting Visual Effects, the rare category in which nominees are decided by a panel’s review of submitted footage as opposed to a broad popularity based ballot-check.

A two-time Emmy nominee himself (Best Drama Series for “Heroes” in 2007 and Best Comedy Writing for “Pushing Daisies” in 2008), Fuller has carried over much of his “Hannibal” crew (directors, editors, production designers, hairstylists, the composer) to “American Gods” and this will hopefully be their Emmy redemption. With a bigger budget, longer episodes, fewer content restraints and more artistic freedom, what appears on screen is likely to match Fuller’s ambition closer than anything prior that he has made. The sparse regard by Fuller and fellow showrunner Michael Green for narrative conventions — the series’ premise is yet to be established really after half a season — make for some trying viewing experiences, but ones that must be endured if the Emmy voters hope to recognize the most outstanding achievements in television.

After ‘Hannibal,’ Bryan Fuller takes on Neil Gaiman novel

Critics have praised the scenery-chewing by Ian McShane (2005 nominee for Best Drama Actor in “Deadwood”) as Mr. Wednesday and Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon, who we hope are serious Emmy contenders. This is set to be Starz’s big push this year and it should be able to yield love in Creative Arts races. Directors of photography Brendan Galvin and Jo Willems set a new standard for the crispness of cinematography such that “American Gods” deserves to be Starz’s first Emmy winner in that field, as well as its first nominee since “The Pillars of the Earth” (seven nominations in 2011, including Best Movie/Miniseries), which also starred McShane.

Starz has had multiple programs nominated for Best Main Title Design, Music Composition, Original Main Title Theme Music, Sound Editing and Special Visual Effects. “American Gods” makes a strong case for each of those, as well as Best Fantasy/Contemporary Production Design. It would be a welcome breakthrough nominee for the network in Best Prosthetic Makeup; this is a show in which a character loses an arm, then carries it around before getting it reattached.

If “American Gods” hopes to be nominated for acting, it might be wisest to push guests Cloris Leachman (an eight-time Emmy winner) as Zorya Vechernyaya and Peter Stormare (pictured above) as Czernobog, a couple of old gods who first appear in the second episode with thick accents and a penchant for monologues.

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