Last month, Neil Gaiman announced that a Good Omens sequel series is in the works with Amazon. He’s been hinting that he’s working on two TV shows, and this morning revealed the second: Anansi Boys is also coming to Prime as a six-episode limited series co-written by Gaiman and Lenny Henry. Gaiman and Douglas Mackinnon (Good Omens) will be co-showrunners, and Hanelle M. Culpepper (Picard) will direct the pilot.
If your reaction to this news is somewhat trepidatious, you probably remember what happened with the last version of Mr. Nancy.
Backing up: Anansi Boys is not a sequel to American Gods (though when it was first published, the publisher sure did their best to make it visually look like one). It’s sort of a distant cousin of a novel, and it follows Charlie Nancy, whose father is a god—a fact he learns when the man he thought was his father dies. Charlie also has a brother, Spider, and as the book description puts it: “Now brother Spider is on his doorstep—about to make Fat Charlie’s life more interesting . . . and a lot more dangerous.”
Gaiman has said he had the idea for Anansi Boys first, and “borrowed Mr. Nancy” for American Gods. In a statement about the TV series, he says, “Anansi Boys began around 1996, from a conversation I had with Lenny Henry about writing a story that was diverse and part of the culture that we both loved. I wrote a novel, an (I hope) joyous and funny book about a dead god and his two sons, about birds and ghosts and beasts and cops, based in Caribbean and African tales.”
The full-circle nature of this—that Henry, who also read the audiobook, is now co-writing the series—is great. Gaiman went into a little more detail in a post on his journal, and hinted that they’ll be announcing the “thrilling” cast soon. The series is scheduled to begin filming in Scotland later this year.
But this brings us back to the problem of Mr. Nancy, or, more specifically, the problem of Orlando Jones’ Mr. Nancy on American Gods. Jones was one of the best things about that show’s outstanding first season. He walked into that show looking like a million dollars, and he lit a match, burning through a speech that gives me goosebumps to think about even now. He was absolutely thrilling to watch. Season two of the show, which was troubled by showrunner changes, stumbled, but Jones—also a writer and producer—was still one of the strongest parts.
For season three, Jones was cut loose. The official reason was that Mr. Nancy wasn’t in the plot for the third season, which was intended to stick more closely to the book. Jones pushed back, saying that he was told his character sent “the wrong message for Black America.”
The abrupt dismissal of the former Mr. Nancy makes the Anansi Boys news land a little weirdly—and makes it a little hard to approach this adaptation with unbridled enthusiasm. Obviously, this is a different show, with a different studio, with—almost certainly—a different Nancy. But after dozens of Marvel movies, viewers have been trained on the idea of a cinematic universe. If a character introduced on one series turns up on another series, people expect a connection, or at least for that overlap to be addressed. Just saying that Anansi Boys is a standalone doesn’t really cut it.
There’s no release date for Anansi Boys yet.