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The pilot for the upcoming Starz series raises provocative questions about worship and divinity.

Neil Gaiman begins his novel American Gods with an epigraph from Richard Dorson’s “A Theory for American Folklore.” In it, Dorson asks what happens to demonic beings of one culture when its people immigrate to another. The novel’s central conceit—that certain characters are personifications of the gods of myth—is never overtly stated in the pilot of Bryan Fuller and Michael Green’s adaptation for Starz. It doesn’t have to be, though; the premise should be clear enough from the title, the leading dialogue, and a preface in which Viking ancestors bring their invisible god to the shores of a new world (and leave him there).

After the preface, the pilot follows the opening of Gaiman’s novel pretty faithfully. Protagonist Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) is released from prison, only to find that the life he was planning on returning to has been cruelly and permanently altered. With no roots and little purpose, he accepts an offer of employment from the shadowy Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane). Pretty soon, he is fighting a self-identified leprechaun in a bar and being kidnapped by a jealous and suspicious youth in a stretch limo who appears to be in some sort of turf war with Wednesday.

Meanwhile, over in Hollywood, where they worship sex, the equally mysterious Bilquis asks a man to “worship” her during sex. When he complies, she devours him. That scene is prolonged—and graphic. The sex and violence, while not as pervasive as in Game of Thrones, is going to be a tough hurdle for some Christian viewers to clear. So, too, might be some underlying assumptions about whether the Christian religion differs from other religions that tell stories about gods. (Although not …

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