Friday, May 19, 2017

“The Leftovers” vs. “American Gods”

This time of year, we’re usually nearing the midpoint of Game of Thrones. (In fact, it was around this time last year the showrunners gave us “The Door”). But not this year. So while we wait, HBO and Starz have pitted two of their top shows against one another – The Leftovers and American Gods – airing them both in the 9 PM timeslot on Sundays. 

This makes for long Sunday nights as I DVR one show and usually watch it immediately the first show ends. But it’s also led to an inevitable comparison between two shows about faith, religion, and what it means to believe.

The Leftovers

Right now, this is my favorite of the two. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and start binge-watching now. 

The Leftovers takes place after a rapture-like event called the Departure where 2% of the world’s population simply vanished. The first season, which was well done, was based on a novel by Tom Perrotta. It also had a spectacular cast that included Justin Theroux as protagonist Kevin Garvey, as well as Liv Tyler and Carrie Coon (of Gone Girl), who plays Nora Durst, a woman who lost her entire family in the Departure. By the end, Season One left genuine questions about whether the Departure was ever the “biblical” Rapture (after all, a lot of bad people disappeared that day), and it dealt more with themes of loss and coping with that loss than it did with faith or religion.

If Season One was good, Season Two was great. From the beginning of that season, the series’ co-creator, Damon Lindelof, had the show in full LOST mode. (Like when LOST was the best show on television.) Season Two gave us our first glimpse of the afterlife (or purgatory at least), had a main character rise from the dead, and made it clear there’s a whole lot of supernatural stuff going on behind the scenes.

Now, we’re at the midpoint of the final season and the show is still in full-on LOST mode, careening toward the series’ finale. And this time, it seems all about religion (Episode One was titled “The Book of Kevin”; later this year we’ll get the “The Book of Nora”). Only a few days remain until the seventh anniversary of the Departure, when many (including Kevin’s father and Nora’s brother) believe some apocalyptic event will occur. This show has mysteries heaped on mysteries, much like LOST did in its prime. And with only 5 episodes left, I’m looking forward to every one of them. 

American Gods

We are only 3 episodes into the much-anticipated Starz series based on the fantasy epic by Neil Gaiman. This show seemed so well cast and received so much hype, my expectations may have been a bit overblown. Though I did predict it would have a hard time standing up to the novel, and on that point I’m beginning to think I was right. 

The show has stayed fairly true to the book, though they’ve moved some scenes around and included a lot of additional material. Most of the added stuff has come in the form of “Coming to America” scenes. In the book, these were short chapters that explained how, over time, immigrants have brought their old beliefs and folklores with them to America. These beliefs now manifest themselves as the old gods, whose conflict with the “new” gods such as the media and technology forms the fundamental plot of American Gods. The show, however, is giving us one or more of these vignettes every episode. Some have been very good, but they have had the effect at times of slowing the story down.

Another gripe, if you will, has been the soundtrack. A lot of the show uses grim and foreboding tones like an old horror movie. (It reminds me of that bad Jack Nicholson film Wolf for some reason.) But thankfully, this isn’t always the case. The scenes with Shadow and Mr. Wednesday continuing their buddy road trip through America often play old songs in the background, in a way that is upbeat or apropos to the scene. Not surprisingly, the Shadow and Mr. Wednesday scenes have been the best by far. They mirror the book’s less serious tone, and I wish the entire show would have embraced this feel. But we’re only 3 episodes in, and there’s still plenty of time for the show to grow on me. And trust me, I don’t plan on missing any episodes.

But those are just my thoughts. Are you experiencing this same dilemma? And if so, which show do you prefer: The Leftovers or American Gods?

* Images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes and Starz

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