The "Sleepy Hollow"-ing of "American Gods"
December 23, 2019 6:50 AM   Subscribe

Last week, Orlando Jones tweeted some news about his departure from American Gods, the Starz television adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel. The series has suffered extensive turnover in front of and behind the cameras, and Clarkisha Kent says "There is still time for American Gods to avoid its impending implosion, but if Sleepy Hollow taught us anything, it's that we probably shouldn't hold our Black-ass breaths."
posted by Etrigan (23 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm kind of astonished by this interview he gave with Deadline, where he basically says he was made a consulting producer for Season 2 because the writers hadn't written anything for the POC characters. If accurate, that's like... wow. He might not just have a lawsuit on the matter regarding his highly delayed lack-of-option renewal, but as an uncredited writer under WGA rules.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 7:09 AM on December 23, 2019 [12 favorites]


The producers are correct that Orlando Jones/Anansi stood out like a sore thumb from the rest of the show. Thing is, he stood out because he was light years better than just about everything else on the show. Their failure to do more with his electric and timely performance is on them, not him.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:10 AM on December 23, 2019 [32 favorites]


I loved the first season of American Gods, but didn't bother searching out the second season (it sounded bad). Still, I was staggered to hear that Orlando Jones was being let go, and not just because he's great as Mr Nancy. He's really good at fan outreach and promotion -- I remember watching the show and thinking they were lucky to have him!
posted by grandiloquiet at 7:11 AM on December 23, 2019 [11 favorites]


That Deadline link TPG posted makes a connection not in the main link: Fremantle Media, the company behind the firing of Orlando Jones from American Gods is also the company behind the firing of Gabrielle Union from America's Got Talent. This is a pattern.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:26 AM on December 23, 2019 [27 favorites]


Plus they're working on booting Salim and the Ifrit. I understand that this season of the show focuses on a different section of the book - but those characters made the show. I'm so sad - this could have been such a good show, it started off with such promise... and then kerflop.
posted by Gyre,Gimble,Wabe, Esq. at 7:35 AM on December 23, 2019 [6 favorites]


Those characters didn't just make the show, to me. They represented the way that American Gods the show was reflecting the evolution of America over the place that America was when the original was written. Season 1 was so resonant because it seemed to understand where we are and it was shaping up to tell a better story of the whole America than the original. At some point, it seems like decisions were made that this was not a priority, and that's what bothers me.
posted by Sequence at 8:07 AM on December 23, 2019 [9 favorites]


Thanks for reminding me how mad I am about what happened to Sleepy Hollow.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:09 AM on December 23, 2019 [17 favorites]


This is a weird retconning of what happened to Sleepy Hollow. Season 1 of Sleepy Hollow was absolutely lightning in a bottle, but seasons 2 and 3 proved that they couldn't recapture the magic they had in season 1 (for a lot of reasons besides just too much focus on Katrina, although that was a contributing factor). Jones was asked to leave Sleepy Hollow towards the end of Season 2 but he did not blast the showrunners for it and seemed to have been perfectly willing to exit, since he (like most of the viewers) was way less happy with Season 2's creative direction. Season 3 basically doubled down on Season 2's mistakes. Then towards the end of Season 3, Nicole Beharie asked to leave (it turns out one of the reasons for Beharie's exit was that she was battling health issues); FOX's act of foolishness was to try to continue on and have a Season 4 without her. They did, and it was....honestly not as awful as I expected it to be, but only because Janina Gavankar worked her ass off to try to win over the audience as the replacement for Beharie's character.

I'm also not sure that Laura Moon is someone I'd pick as an example of a Boring White Girl Protagonist because she's both an interesting character (IMO) and one of the few really relatable viewpoints on American Gods, which spends a lot of its running time showing us the actions of gods who really...are not very relatable. (Except Mr. Nancy!) Or on Shadow Moon who is mostly just an observer or passively has stuff happen to him. Laura Moon brings a lot of life (ironic since she's literally dead) to a show that otherwise has a tendency to be a little too dreamlike. (Salim and the Ifrit where another point of accessibility/relatability and it boggles my mind they're letting them go.)

All that said, yeah, American Gods' production has absolutely been a disaster. While I can understand Jones being reluctant to let go of the fantastic character of Nancy, I'm almost surprised that he even wanted to stick around considering what a mess it's been (and as evidenced by Sleepy Hollow Jones doesn't always mind exiting a sinking ship) but maybe after getting involved in the writing side of things last season he was hoping the ongoing production shitshow would actually work in his favor. (I can imagine an alternate, better universe where Jones's work on Season 2 results in him gradually taking over as showrunner for Season 3 and I would definitely watch that season 3. In the best of all possible universes, Jones' hugely successful work as a showrunner on American Gods would get him the go-ahead to create an Anansi Boys spin-off.)

That Deadline link TPG posted makes a connection not in the main link: Fremantle Media, the company behind the firing of Orlando Jones from American Gods is also the company behind the firing of Gabrielle Union from America's Got Talent. This is a pattern.

It definitely seems so, and Fremantle was already being investigated by SAG-AFTRA for firing Union and they are now expanding that to include Jones' departure. Hopefully it will result in some significant consequences.
posted by mstokes650 at 8:15 AM on December 23, 2019 [8 favorites]


Kind of glad various things took me away from Sleepy Hollow after Season 1 now. I still remember it as a pretty damn good show.
posted by Naberius at 8:16 AM on December 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


American Gods is one of my favorite books. I liked exactly two things about the first season of the TV show: Mr. Nancy's "angry gets shit done" scene, and the vignette introducing Salim and the Djinn. The rest was a joyless slog with too much gore and too much of Laura Moon and Mad Sweeney bitching at each other. Even Kristin Chenoweth's appearance as Easter couldn't get me excited for Season 2, so I didn't bother. Now I see that that was the right decision.

I wonder if the American Gods mess is why Neil Gaiman has taken a hands-on approach to adaptations of Good Omens and Sandman.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 8:38 AM on December 23, 2019 [6 favorites]


(I know this isn't an original thought, but let me just add to the chorus:)

Mr. Nancy's "Anger gets shit done" speech was one of the best moments on the show - and captures (a little of) the anger and hopelessness and brutality of slavery. With the knowledge of what they are going to, what else could they do?

I had paused after Season 1. But sounds like there is very little reason to watch Season 2. I should just go and read The Anansi Boys instead.

I also really liked Mr Jackel (Anubis) and Mr Ibis (Thot), and Salim and the Ifrit.
posted by jb at 9:02 AM on December 23, 2019 [7 favorites]


I loved most of the "coming to America" scenes, and they really underscored one of the premises of the show, that America is very much built on immigration, slavery, migration, and yes - violence. And with all that, people bringing their culture with them. Mr Nancy's "anger gets shit done" was one of the best moments of the show, and Orlando Jones was really the stand out actor overall.

Which is why season 2, and now this, are so disappointing. He really represented the best of what American Gods could have been. They should have put him in charge of the show, not fired him out of fear of showing an angry black man.
posted by mrgoat at 9:38 AM on December 23, 2019 [6 favorites]


I've watched this show for Mad Sweeny and Mr. Nancy. This is incredibly disappointing.
posted by corb at 10:01 AM on December 23, 2019


I'm not sure if this was linked in the thread already, but they've also written out another PoC character, the Jinn.
posted by primalux at 11:15 AM on December 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't call it a massive retconning of what happened to Sleepy Hollow. You've linked to the fact that Nicole Beharie had an autoimmune disease, and I can see how that would affect some choices. But not only did they sideline literally every character of color, they also went full-on into the sexist trope that women can only be enemies, which destroyed the character of Katrina. It was so disappointing, because they could have gotten so much out of the show by having Katrina be an ally rather than the Big Bad. I know there were a lot of rumors that in Season 2 the network forced the writers to take things in those directions, but I don't know if anyone has ever come out and said it officially. (Which, again, mirrors what is happening now with American Gods.)
posted by rednikki at 12:11 PM on December 23, 2019 [4 favorites]


Mr. Nancy's "Anger gets shit done" speech was one of the best moments on the show - and captures (a little of) the anger and hopelessness and brutality of slavery.

honestly one of the best moments in the history of human media. i'm so furious about the moronic dismantling of two amazing plotlines within the show, and their pusillanimous excuses about how "it's not part of the book for the upcoming season" is pathetic considering how much they've already done that was not part of the book in the first fucking place.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:33 PM on December 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


IIRC "anger gets shit done" isn't part of Mr Nancy's character in either the original American Gods or Anansi Boys: Mr Nancy is vain, greedy, and lots of fun. Mr Nancy always wins, and his special power lies in persuading his powerful enemies to destroy themselves. American Gods' underlying story is about Odin tricking other deities into destroying themselves for his benefit and I can see why the original depiction of Mr Nancy wouldn't work.

Gaiman created a fascinating world, but it's like The X-files: the story is much less interesting than the episodes. Mr Nancy is too damn interesting, so he has to go before he destroys the show. Gaiman lampshades this problem in Anansi Boys: how do you handle a character who automatically makes himself the center of every story? His answer is to make the story about that. And maybe that's what they should have done with American Gods, too. It wouldn't have been the same show, but it would have been a hell of a lot more fun.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:10 PM on December 23, 2019


Yeah, "it's not part of the book for the upcoming season" is ridiculous. You're writing the show. You can make it part of the upcoming season. Nothing is stopping you. The book won't come to life and thwap you, or it already would have when you put that godsawful Vulcan episode in.
posted by mrgoat at 2:57 PM on December 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


This is a weird retconning of what happened to Sleepy Hollow.

It's really not. Sleepy Hollow season was was beloved because of precisely the things the showrunners/network were hellbent on destroying in season two - the Abbie/Ichabod chemistry, multiple black characters, and fun quick storytelling.

Season two dumps Orlando Jones and his family, loses John Cho, insists on centering a new blonde white dude as a romantic partner for Abbie, keeps trying to jam Ichabod with his white wife, who was a terrible terrible character played by an truly untalented actor, and introduces Abbie's sister, who is really unpleasant and not fun.

It tossed aside everything good in favor of being more trashy and white.

Orlando Jones was not happy about being written out and he talked about racism in Hollywood at the time.

Yeah, still smarting a little about that, I guess.
posted by See you tomorrow, saguaro at 4:40 PM on December 23, 2019 [4 favorites]


their pusillanimous excuses about how "it's not part of the book for the upcoming season" is pathetic considering how much they've already done that was not part of the book in the first fucking place.

I am really wondering if this has to do with how Bryan Fuller does adaptations like Hannibal in a way that explores things from the starting point of the source material instead of just turning the source material into a TV show. After he was gone, it seems like they started kind of flailing about trying to bring stuff back in line with what was in the book, because... well, I strongly suspect because the story the show was going to have mostly lived in the heads of Fuller and Green. The people they hired to replace Fuller and Green do not, seems to me, have a vision for this show. They just have a book that they're turning into a TV show to make money for their bosses. I feel really sorry for the cast who signed up for one and got the other. As a watcher, at least I have an easier time walking away.
posted by Sequence at 5:14 PM on December 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


I wonder if the American Gods mess is why Neil Gaiman has taken a hands-on approach to adaptations of Good Omens and Sandman.

When it comes to Good Omens, he quite literally made a promise to Terry Pratchett to make sure they "get it right" if it ever got picked up for film, so there's that. At least in public he's generally pretty sanguine about adaptations.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 9:50 AM on December 24, 2019 [2 favorites]


Gaiman is sanguine up to a point. He's said that the reason that there is no Anansi Boys adaptation is that the producers who approached him legit wanted to know why the protagonists could not be white instead.
posted by Karmakaze at 9:01 AM on December 26, 2019 [2 favorites]


For those of you who haven't read Anansi Boys, without spoiling anything I can tell you that not only does the title reference an African deity, but the protagonist is of Afro-Caribbean descent; he was raised among other people from that community (which is a big plot point); so is his love interest; they (separately) end up travelling to the Caribbean, where there's a running joke about everybody knowing about their business. Basically everybody in the book except the villain is Black, Black, Blackity-Black. Casting it with White actors would be like using Black actors in a show where the characters do nothing but complain about their tendency to sunburn and visible tan lines.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:33 PM on December 26, 2019 [1 favorite]


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