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American Gods Has Been Canceled. What Went Wrong?

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News broke yesterday that Starz has canceled American Gods after three tumultuous seasons. The company behind the series, Fremantle Media, is in talks with Starz for a possible event series or movie to finish the story and get through the remaining material in Neil Gaiman’s novel, but that’s not certain at all. What does feel certain is that this cancelation was sadly inevitable and left us asking: How did a series that started with such promise go so wrong?

American Gods season one debuted on Starz in April of 2017, after a long wind-up to the series debut. I remember attending two panels for the show at San Diego Comic-Con in 2016, alight with excitement for a series based on one of my favorite books of all time helmed by Hannibal and Pushing Daisies mastermind Bryan Fuller as well as Michael Green. And the series that hit the air in 2017 was indeed as creative and bold as one might expect from Fuller, but it also didn’t entirely match the lonely, mystical tone of Gaiman’s work. (I maintain still that the best adaptation of American Gods is actually Supernatural, which was heavily influenced by Gaiman’s oeuvre).

The first season of American Gods has many highs and lows. The highs included an incredible introductory scene for Orlando Jones’ Mr. Nancy, a great flashback episode for the Leprauchaun Mad Sweeney (played by Pablo Schreiber), and a strong, diverse, and fascinating cast of characters, including Jones, Schreiber, Yetide Badaki as Bilquis, Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon, Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday, Emily Browning as Laura Moon, Omid Abtahi as Salim, Demore Barnes as Mr. Ibis, Mousa Kraish as Jinn, Crispin Glover as Mr. World, and many more. But the lows were there too. Too much slow motion and visual flair, too many characters and storylines, a lot of too much. And those problems were just one indication of the real turmoil on the show that was going on behind the scenes.

Between seasons one and two, which aired a full two years apart, showrunners Fuller and Green were fired by Fremantle amid conflicts over the tone and look of the show, as well as ballooning budgets. They were replaced with Jesse Alexander, but if anything, things went worse for him. Major castmembers Gillian Anderson and Kristin Chenoweth left the show. Production was delayed amid chaos in the writers’ room, with scripts not getting to actors and some actors even having to write their own lines, resulting in disputes with the Writers Guild over credits and compensation for that work. By the end of production on season two, Alexander was forced out of the showrunner role. Rumors swirled that author Neil Gaiman was steering the ship, but he consistently denied them.

After the show limped through season two and more cast members fled the sinking ship, Charles “Chic” Eglee was hired for season three’s showrunner duties. Things immediately went wrong there as well, as Orlando Jones was very publically let go from the show. According to Jones, he was fired because Eglee thought “that Mr. Nancy’s angry, get shit done is the wrong message for black America.” Overall the viewership on season three was down 65% from the high of season one and debuted without any of the fanfare or excitement of the first episodes of the series. The only “positive” news about the show came when they announced they would be cutting Marilyn Manson out of the season after he was accused of rape and abuse by multiple women.

Amid all this behind-the-scenes drama and disappointing on-screen content, it’s no shock that the series finally got the ax, but it’s still sad that a show that had so much going for it when it started ended in such an ignominious way. This also makes me somewhat worried about future adaptations of Gaiman’s work. Sandman is on the way from Netflix and Gaiman is heavily involved in that series as well. Hopefully, it will be in a way that enriches the show rather than causing conflict with showrunners and the studios or stifling the adaptation to the screen.

Overall, I’m sad that a book that I enjoyed so much just couldn’t always translate on-screen and that the generally great cast was let down over and over by the people in power. Maybe at some point in the future, we’ll get another go at these stories.

(via The Hollywood Reporter, image: Starz)

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Jessica Mason
Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.