The Hollywood Reporter is now reporting that Jesse Alexander (Hannibal, Star Trek Discovery) will be taking over showrunning duties from Bryan Fuller and Michael Green for the upcoming second season of American Gods. It’s nice that we finally have a new showrunner for the show, at least. That being said, there are some worrying aspects that have been revealed through this report. For starters, it seems that the departure of Fuller and Green was a lot more contentious than previously believed.
Fuller and Green had already written the first six episodes of season two, with sources noting Fremantle planned to toss those scripts and start from scratch with Alexander. In addition to budget concerns, sources note Gaiman was also unhappy with the direction Fuller and Green planned to take season two as their vision was not a straight adaptation of his source material. Gaiman is said to have wanted a showrunner to come in and produce a straight take on his novel (which would include ignoring the cliffhanger from season one).
This is worrying on a few levels. Firstly, it goes against everything that everyone has said publicly. Yes, that wouldn’t be the first time something like that’s happened, but it does still seem odd. Gaiman seemed perfectly pleased with the direction season one went in all promotional materials, interviews, and tweets he tweeted about the show. It seems odd that he’d have had such problems with the show.
Secondly, producing a straight take on the novel would be a mistake. As written, American Gods needed to be expanded and opened up to be a successful TV series. It wouldn’t have worked if done exactly as written, especially not in today’s culture. Now, look, I’m not saying that every decision Fuller and Green made when it came to expanding the story of American Gods was successful or even smart – I’ve been pretty vocal about how much of a bad idea it was devoting the entirety of the penultimate episode of the season, A Prayer for Mad Sweeney to the backstory of Mad Sweeney – but a lot of their ideas were good. Especially the cliffhanger for season 1. Yes, it’s radically different than the book, but I think it took the show in an interesting direction. I understand Gaiman not liking it, necessarily, but it would be a mistake to just ignore it at this point.
For one thing, it would totally mess up the continuity of the story that’s now being told through the show. How can it credibly just ignore such a world-changing event like that? Answer: you can’t. If Gaiman dislikes it that much and really wants Alexander to ignore it, the best thing to do would be to wrap it up as quickly as possible. Maybe something as simple as “it turns out Easter didn’t actually have enough power to make that famine last for more than a couple of days” and use that as a way to further explore the gods’ weakening powers in the modern age. There are ways to get around that cliffhanger that don’t involve completely ignoring it. Alexander is a good writer and I hope he realizes that.
Insiders note that Fuller and Green had a contentious relationship with Fremantle on season one of American Gods, with the freshman run coming in at an estimated $30 million over budget. Originally ordered for 10 episodes, the show underwent multiple rewrites, with Fuller scrapping a couple of episodes and reworking others for what wound up as an eight-episode season. Fremantle set a $9 million-an-episode budget on season two, sources say, with Fuller and Green asking for more to produce 10 episodes of [the] high-concept drama. Given the delay in finding a new showrunner, sources say American Gods could now trim the season-two episode count — which was never officially announced by Starz — in a bid to keep the show within its budget.
Then there’s this bit about the budget concerns that seem worrisome. I won’t defend Fuller and Green for going so grossly over budget (if these claims are, indeed, true). It’s a problem that Fuller seems to have with every show he works on. Yes, his visual style is expensive, but there has to be a way to make that style work for less money without compromising the integrity of it, and it’s suspicious and frustrating for producers that this seems to continuously happen in regards to him. What’s worrisome about all this, though, is what it means for the upcoming season. Will there be a noticeable drop in the quality of the visuals? I hope not. I do believe you can still have visuals of that quality without breaking the bank; you just have to be creative about it. The bigger worry is another reduced episode count. Eight episodes were barely enough time to really get into the meat of the story last season, especially with the meandering pace of the show. I’m fine with the show continuing to have such a pace, but it needs to come with more episodes in a season, too. With the first season, it felt like things finally got going just in time for the season to end, and if we’re not careful, that’ll be how season two feels too. I understand the show has been burning money these last several months with Freemantle (reportedly) planning to toss all the scripts Fuller and Green had already written and forcing Alexander to start over from scratch. That’s gonna cost a lot of money with nothing to make up for that lost money and I just hope that it doesn’t result in another reduced episode order. We’ve gotta give this show a long enough season for it to actually feel like something was accomplished within it.
As if that weren’t enough problems, then there are the reported cast shakeups with Gillian Anderson saying she won’t be returning and Kristen Chenoweth suggesting the same. Both of them played major characters (as of the season one finale) and not having them around anymore would either mean the loss of those characters – a show-breaking mistake – or the recasting of them. With Media (Gillian Anderson’s character), you could almost get away with that given the shapeshifting nature of the character, but with Easter (Kristen Chenoweth’s character), it’s gonna be a much harder sell. Both actresses bring with them a fandom that will be very disappointed to see their absence – and will likely ditch the show as a result. It’s a challenge that Alexander and the rest of the producers will have to overcome. And it doesn’t really spell the best of news for the show.
Overall, I’m glad American Gods finally has a new showrunner and can move back into production again. I just hate that it seems like the show’s never gonna be able to recover from this. By the time it returns, it will have been off the air for 2+ years, and most shows that aren’t already monumentally popular (which American Gods wasn’t; it was well received critically and a modest success ratings-wise, but not a smashing success by any measure) are unable to rebound after such a long break. The casual audience will have moved on and television will have already monumentally changed. I hate the ways it seems like the overall story of the series will suffer through the differing visions of those behind the scenes. A show like this needs a vision that lasts across all the seasons. For all the problems the first season had, it was still a solid direction for the show to move in, and to completely disregard that would be an insult to Green and Fuller and to the audience that loved the show as it was. It would be hard for the show to ever feel like a unified whole again after that. I have faith in Jesse Alexander, but I do hope that he doesn’t just completely throw out what was established in the first season. It would be a mistake for the show moving forward and for the continuity of the show as a whole. I hope the financial problems the show is having don’t result in a dip in the visual quality of the show or in the overall episode count either. There’s a lot of things happening behind the scenes that I really hope don’t completely throw the boat overboard.
I want American Gods to succeed. I love Neil Gaiman’s book. I love the work Michael Green and Bryan Fuller did in the first season. I have faith in Jesse Alexander’s abilities to save the show. But it’s not looking promising. I’m nowhere near as excited for the second season now as I was when the first ended. I’m cautiously optimistic, but not excited.