Series Mania: Paris Embraces ‘American Gods’

Bryan Fuller series receives enthusiastic reception on French debut at Series Mania

American Gods
Courtesy of Starz

PARIS — Bryan Fuller’s “American Gods,” a highly-anticipated series at Paris’ Series Mania, one of Europe’s premier TV festivals, elicited admiration and enthusiasm on its Monday night screening, its continental Europe debut.

Indeed, the sophistication of audience reaction suggests just how keyed-in some young continental Europeans are to the work of major U.S. showrunners.

That said, seen two weeks back at its European premiere in London, the French debut left a predominantly YA French crowd wondering how they would access the rest of the series. “American Gods’” first TV window in international is on Amazon Prime Video, where it bows in France on May 1, one day after its U.S. release on Starz. Amazon Prime Video launched in France on Dec. 14 as part of APV’s global rollout into 200-plus countries. Such a recent launch will have given APV it little time to ramp up substantial subs in France; which of course is where “American Gods” may make a difference.

At a MipTV masterclass in early april, Amazon Studios’ Roy Price suggested that in most countries around the world the two most popular shows watched by people who joined prime Video were usually “Grand Tour” and “The Man in the High Castle.” “Those shows are bringing in and keeping customers and that’s a big area of focus,” Price said. Now, if the Paris reaction to “American Gods” is anything to go by, Amazon Prime Video has a third brand-enhancing sub driver.

Nobody quizzed by Variety after “American Gods’” Ep. 1’s screening pointed out some obvious differences between Neil Gaiman´s book and the series – such as that Shadow Moon, played by Ricky Whittle, is a far more proactive and sociable figure on screen. Paris didn’t pack the Gaiman fanbase of Austin, Texas, where “American Gids” world premiered last month. In fact, Series Mania spectators who had read the book were, from a Variety straw poll of reactions to the show on Monday night, in a minority at the Paris screening.

So “American Gods” had the power to shock in Paris. When Bilquis gobbles up a worshipful admirer during sex initiated through a Tinder-like date – one of the early set scenes in the novel – an audible gasp of admiration was heard in Paris’ Forum des Images’ largest screening room.

But the clued-in-ness of response in some cases was still impressive, doing nothing to diminish the gathering perception of France as a bastion of U.S. prestige TV.

In “American Gods,” “he still has the Bryan Fuller gore and darkness but more of a budget,” said Joanna, quizzed by Variety and wearing a toy butterfly in her hair in a tribute to Fuller’s “Hannibal.”

She added: “He’s finally with a network that actually respects him and gives him the money to do what he wants, which is very new.”

“The actors are flawless, and the artistic direction very good,” added Melibée, a friend.

The strength of performances, especially from Ian McShane as Wednesday, was particularly commented upon, as well as the beauty of visuals.

The opening credit sequence, the music, and the stylization of the violence – which lessens its brutality, one spectator said – also came in for praise.

Among those polled, two interviewees said they would at least try Amazon Prime Video’s trial subscription , just to watch “American Gods.” That trial is generous in France: 18-24-aged viewers there are able to benefit from a six-month, free-of-charge trial and then an annual subscription at just €24 ($25.5), half the €49 ($52) yearly rate for most adults.

Also, in a link-up between a digital platform and established players which is increasingly common overseas, FremantleMedia, which originally brought Starz and Amazon on board for “American Gods” and has second window TV rights in international, started conversations with linear broadcasters at MipTV with view to their broadcasting the series. “American Gods” was indeed one of the biggest shows being brought onto the market at the Cannes trade fair and buzz was huge. That linear broadcaster exposure looks likely to be a huge promo for “American Gods” in particular and Amazon in general and provide a TV event for linear broadcasters.

But established players are not embracing digital platform rivals without some caution.

Talking in a keynote Q & A on Tuesday at Series Mania, Christian Vesper, FremantleMedia creative director of global drama, commented that “Netflix is a great partner.” That said, “there are reasons to do deals with Netflix on some shows and reasons not to,” he added, citing Netflix’s partnership on “Rain,” produced by FremantleMedia-owned Miso Film, as a deal that made sense.

Amazon’s involvement on “American Gods” was essential for the show to get made, and leaves ample potential viewerships for international audiences in territories abroad.

How established and digital players will link up on first and second TV windows is indeed an increasingly key question.

It can be regarded with humor. Reviewing TF1’s deal last year with Netflix, which saw the French broadcaster screening the first two episodes of Netflix’s “Marseille” as Netflix launched the show in France, TF1 Group CEO Gilles Pelisson said when receiving Variety’s Achievement in International TV Award at MipTV that the arrangement gave TF1 “mixed feelings.”

“As one of my Harvard professors used to say, you have mixed feelings when you see your mother-in-law driving your brand new Ferrari over a cliff. We are in competition mode, but there is definitely a [potential] sharing of value,” Pelisson commented.