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Humanity’s fate hangs in balance in Starz’s ‘American Gods’

April 28, 2017

Lucy Ricardo wants you.

To worship her.

In Starz’s “American Gods,” a series adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s 2001 Hugo and Nebula award-winning novel of the same name from producers Bryan Fuller and Michael Green, the old gods and new gods fight for dominance with all of humanity as prize, cattle and dessert combined.

The old gods represent a pantheon of beliefs across the world; the new gods are the idols of media and technology, the forces claiming the devotion of a new generation.

One man might be key to their war.

Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle, “The 100”) is a convict serving time for aggravated assault and battery who wins early release — of a few days — after his wife, Laura (Emily Browning, “Pompeii”), and best friend are killed in a car accident.

On his way to the funeral, he meets an enigmatic man who says his name is Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane, “Deadwood”).

The way he introduces himself, it’s almost as if he thought of the name in that moment.

He offers Shadow a job working for him.

By the end of his service, he could be king of America, he promises.

Shadow is not impressed but really doesn’t have any other options.

Mr. Wednesday hates cellphones and highways. He also seems to have a legion of powerful acquaintances and adversaries.

There’s the leprechaun, Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber, “Orange Is the New Black”), who so isn’t short and resents that stereotype. He’s good with coin tricks and gives Shadow a quarter that’s more significant than Shadow could ever imagine.

Czernobog (Peter Stormare, “Longmire”) misses his job of hammering cows and plays a lethal game of checkers. Zorya Vechernyaya (Cloris Leachman, funny and moving) is the eldest of three sisters who tells fortunes and guards … something.

Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) kidnaps Shadow, warning that he has reprogrammed reality. One click, and he’s deleted.

Shadow is bothered by dreams of a buffalo with flames erupting from its eyes.

Meanwhile, you might find yourself considering the question, what is the opposite of giving birth?

“I’m not what I once was,” Bilquis (Yetide Badaki) says, taking a lover. She’s younger after the encounter. Her partner? Not so much.

“American Gods” might remind you of “Spartacus,” another Starz hit, in that there’s copious amounts of blood, gore and nudity of all kinds.

But “Gods” has its own dark humor — as when the erratic widow of Shadow’s best friend tries to have sex with him in a cemetery. “I’m trying to get my dignity back here,” she says.

“Gods” takes delight in magnifying images hundredfold — a match being struck, a tile being cleaned. This can get a bit precious.

Along the way, we get flashbacks exploring the times in which the gods have interacted with people — such as the spider god Anansi (Orlando Jones), who appears on a slave ship in 1697 and foments a fiery rebellion.

Whittle is best known for roles on United Kingdom’s “Hollyoaks” and “Dream Team” and could really break through here with this role. With threats buzzing around him, he remains a determined protagonist.

Media — played by “X-Files’” Gillian Anderson in a canny bit of casting — pops up in the second episode as everyone’s favorite black-and-white redhead on a bevy of TV monitors.

Shadow worries about his sanity.

“There are bigger sacrifices one might be asked to make than going a little mad,” Mr. Wednesday says.

“American Gods” delivers a crazy time.