Neil Gaiman’s Explanation Why Media Left American Gods Is Ridiculous

Neil Gaiman’s Explanation Why Media Left American Gods Is Ridiculous
Gillian Anderson as Media. (Screenshot: Starz)

The plot of Neil Gaiman’s original American Gods was rather straightforward. But Starz’s adaptation of the novel has ended up being somewhat more complicated, in part because of the numerous changes to the cast that had to be made in response to stars like Orlando Jones (Mr. Nancy), Kristin Chenoweth (Easter), and Gillian Anderson (Media) suddenly exiting the show.

While mid-series departures are common in the world of television, American Gods has lost more than a handful of characters who were both crucial to the story as it was told in Gaiman’s book and arguably some of the most memorable parts of the show’s first season. Instead of acknowledging the tectonic behind-the-scenes shifts that have defined its past two seasons, American Gods has simply glossed over Easter and Nancy’s absences while replacing Media with New Media, a modern incarnation of the deity portrayed by Kahyun Kim.

Just what the new gods’ plan for New Media and her ability to harness the power of social media to hold mortals’ attentions was never made clear in American Gods’ second season, but there was potential for her to return this year with a more clearly defined purpose and significance in the series’ third chapter. According to Gaiman, though, fans of the source material shouldn’t hold their breaths for either of the versions of Media to pop back up this time around, as the character is wholly absent from the season. The reason why is, unfortunately, ridiculous.

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“When I wrote the book, even when we were making season one, it felt like Media was monolithic; that you could go, ‘Ah, over here is the media, and look, it is represented by a Lucille Ball/Lucy Ricardo character, who is also somehow a newsreader, who is also every icon of media,” Gaiman said, referring to the time Media spends in season one presenting herself to Shadow Moon as different figures from pop culture. “By season two, everybody was going, ‘We don’t think that’s what Media is right now.’ We had a fabulous idea of, ‘OK, well, then, New Media.’”

Gaiman’s reasoning here is a little strange on its face when you recall that American Gods was first published in 2001 after the idea first came to him in 1998 — and by 2011, Gaiman was already in talks with HBO to bring the story to television as the series that would ultimately premiere on Starz in 2017. Despite the role that American culture in particular has played in shaping global culture, it’s odd to think that someone who’s lived in America since 1992 could somehow conceptualize of a “monolithic” Media.

While the shape and source of the media has undeniably changed since Gaiman first turned it into a god for his own creative purposes, the role that it has and continues to play in influencing our world is undeniable. Media being missing from American Gods feels like the show being unable to hide the reality that it’s suffered losses. But to Gaiman’s eye, what’s happened to Media is best seen as a reflection of how chaotic our relationship with the media is, now.

“Right now, I think that Media feels fragmented, which is one reason why we took a lot of that role, and divided it up amongst these sort of social media entities that you got to watch [new season three character] Ms. World interacting with,” Gaiman said.” “I think by season four, Media may well have settled down and become something else again, both more powerful and less powerful than it was in season one.”

By merely waving at the Media-shaped hole in its plot by introducing Dominique Jackson’s Ms. World and her squad of social media managers, American Gods’ third season really kind of tells on itself in an unfortunate way that Gaiman’s attempting, unsuccessfully, to downplay. All it takes is to turn on a television right now to understand that the media continues to play a pivotal role in how power flows through the world. American Gods was, at one point, in the perfect position to capitalise on that reality, but in fumbling the ball production-wise, and losing two versions of Media, the show’s missed a prime window to really make that part of its story resonate with audiences, and that’s something it’s just going to have to power through.

American Gods airs Sundays on Starz.

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