American Gods has had a difficult path to Season 2. To recap: Showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green split from the expensive, ambitious production over budget disagreements with studio Fremantle Media, and Gillian Anderson, the show's highest-profile cast member, soon followed. Neil Gaiman, who wrote the novel upon which the fantasy series is based, took a more active role in Season 2, partially because he was reportedly unhappy with the direction Fuller and Green took the story, and Jesse Alexander was installed as the new showrunner. A few months later, Jesse Alexander was out, amid reported production delays, cost overruns, shouting matches and weak scripts that actors were re-writing on set. Season 2 does not yet have a premiere date beyond "2019," but whenever it does finally reach the screen, around two years will have passed since Season 1.
Fans like myself were concerned as the cast headed to New York Comic Con, and curious to see what the first footage of Season 2 looked like. Would budget constraints and a more conservative writing team cause the show to reduce the visual and narrative imagination that made Season 1 so compelling? Fortunately, the trailer shown made it look like the show will meet the level of quality established by Season 1 (with the caveat that a trailer is designed to make something look good and may not necessarily be reflective of the finished product), and the chemistry between cast members on the panel and in roundtable interviews with reporters seemed positive, like they were promoting a show they still believed in.
At least one of the people involved in the show went through her own version of this process from worry to reassurance. "If you had spoken to me about it a few months ago, I would have been in a very different place with it," says Emily Browning. "I think we were all nervous at the beginning. Just being totally honest, we all loved Michael and Bryan, and it was their vision, and losing them was terrifying."
But Browning, who plays Shadow Moon's (Ricky Whittle) reanimated corpse wife Laura, has seen rough cuts of the first few episodes and credits co-executive producer Chris Byrne with saving the show. "Chris Byrne was our second unit director last season and is now a producing director and is the f---ing hero of American Gods," Browning says. "The way that the show looks was always him, and it's still him." Byrne has reportedly taken over the job of getting the season finished, along with line producer Lisa Kussner, from Alexander.
"We obviously had a huge road bump," Browning says, "but I feel like we're going to give you guys something really cool."
Gaiman, while not the showrunner or even actively involved in the show's day-to-day production, did have more input in Season 2, consulting with Alexander on story issues and visiting the set to help produce during breaks from Amazon's Good Omens, an upcoming limited series based on one of his books that he actually is running. But the way that Orlando Jones puts it, the book is the book and the show is the show, and the show was created by Bryan Fuller and Michael Green, and they deviated from the book in significant ways that are still part of the show. "I'm a lot like Nancy in the book in many ways and not like Nancy in the book at all," Jones says of his character Mr. Nancy, the American manifestation of the West African god Anansi.
Jones describe's Gaiman's role as making sure the show stays true to the spirit of the novel. "I think there's a nuance there where Neil is really the person that comes in and goes 'guys, stay on the theme, the theme is here, stay focused here,' and he's a master at that as a storyteller," he says. And Jones might know this firsthand, since, according to The Hollywood Reporter, he's credited as a writer on Season 2 to honor Writers' Guild rules about the division of labor between writers and actors. Neither he nor Browning nor any of the other actors mentioned Alexander in interviews or during the panel, and it seems fair to say that they were loyal to Fuller and Green's vision, not his.
Yetide Badaki, who plays the sex-powered goddess Bilquis, has a neat little way of summarizing the differences between the seasons: "My metaphor for Season 2 is basically: we're back at the same school but we're in a different classroom. We have some different teachers, but we still have mostly the same schoolmates. Some new people came from out of town. That's Season 2 for me."
American Gods Season 2 is coming in 2019. Season 1 is available to stream now.