Between the gorgeous visuals, stylized dialogue, hard-R, Starz-ready content, and philosophical musings, American Gods is a unique and thought-provoking show. And determining when American Gods takes place can be a little hard to parse from just trailers or a plot description. But the whole idea of the series is to blend belief systems that are incredibly ancient with very modern obsessions, so by definition, American Gods has to take place in the contemporary USA.
American Gods is based on Neil Gaiman's book of the same name, which was originally written and released in 2001. The concept of the story is that "gods" are willed into being and given power based on how many people believe in them. Therefore, in America's twenty-first century, many ancient rituals brought to the country by immigrants have faded into history. So deities like the pagan goddess Easter and African trickster god Anansi have had their power considerably weakened, while new gods, like Media, are incredibly powerful.
Obviously, a lot has changed in the 16 years since the book was originally released. So when approaching an adaptation, Gaiman and showrunners Bryan Fuller and Michael Green knew they needed to change a few aspects of the original story. The biggest change is probably the character of one of the new gods, Technical Boy. Green told Entertainment Weekly, "Technology has gone from something that was the province of the young to something ubiquitous and in your pocket, and the aesthetics of that have changed."
In 2001, being the personification of the Internet was still stereotypical nerd territory — now, not so much. So one of the main ways in which they've decided to evolve the character is to change his look. Described as a basement-dwelling hacker in the book, now, Technical Boy is, as Fuller said in the same Entertainment Weekly interview, "more punk than god."
Another way American Gods fits into its modern setting is by, somewhat unintentionally, commenting on current events. Green told The New York Times, "What has changed, bizarrely and drastically and unfortunately, is that now immigration is seen by too many as something to be vilified." The old gods arrived as immigrants — as populations from all over the world came to America, their gods were forced to adapt, just like the people who worshipped them. In 2017, "The stuff that I wanted to talk about 17 years ago feels more apt, and more important, to talk about now," Gaiman said in the same article.
In addition to modernizing the story, there were always going to be differences between the American Gods book and TV show. Gaiman's assumption, as he told The A.V. Club, was that the book was "unfilmable." In the same article, Green explained that approaching American Gods as individual fans was the key. "We wanted to recreate our experience," Green said. "And by definition that’s going to be our experience as a reader, which is going to be different from yours or anyone else’s."
American Gods has always relied on a modern setting, but adapting that setting to 2017 has added even more meaning to the story.