I have attempted to keep program spoilers to a minimum, but discussing the quality of this show without revealing anything is almost impossible, any spoilers that appear will be minor. If I feel what I am about to reveal is more major it will be sign-posted within the text.
In February of 2012 I caught the first episode of a Fantasy/Drama/comedy show from New Zealand. You don’t really think of New Zealand as being the home of fantasy, but remember Lord of the Rings was shot there, even previously Peter Jackson shot his first film Bad taste (1987), then the ever so gory, but funny Braindead (1992). He then he went onto less Gory grounds with 1994’s Heavenly Creatures and The Frighteners (1995). At around the same period of time we had Hercules – The Legendary Journeys (1995) and Xena Warrior Princess (1996) which were both U.S. Productions but filmed in NZ. New Zealand has an impressive modern history of fantasy film and television productions The Almighty Johnsons linked into that but aimed at their home market. it may not be fantasy in the Sword and Sorcery way but it is most definitely of that genre.
It is rare that New Zealand Television makes it to a world wide audience, I remember Shortland Street (a Hospital Soap) being on in the daytime many years ago, and every now and then I stumble across Masterchef New Zealand on a streaming platform. New Zealand only has a population of under 7 million (London in comparison has a population of over 8 million) which means they do not have the market to produce as many big shows as other countries. Peter Jackson has helped put the country on the map film making wise but in comparison to other countries it’s international output is small, but as a small country it does box above it’s weight.
When I sat down to watch The Almighty Johnsons I was not sure what I was going to get. What I saw was a witty comedy drama with some great character acting and a very dry sense of humour. I was immediately pulled into this world and wanted to follow the Johnsons and their story.
The basic concept of the show is what would happen if Norse gods had ended up in New Zealand and just lead ordinary lives there. The show ran for 3 seasons it was nearly cancelled after the second one but a campaign that included sending twigs (yes twigs) to TV3 managed to get it a final season, which rounded off the story in a satisfactory way.
The origins of the show came from TV3 asking Producers Rachel Lang and James Griffin for a drama aimed at the male market (most Drama’s in NZ were/are targeted for a Female audience). After much brainstorming and discounting clichés like car shows, the idea of what it would be like to be a Superhero in New Zealand, which is a culture of where people don’t wish to stand out, was floated. Then the idea of Norse Gods came to fruition because James Griffin’s family originated from Sweden in a journey very similar to the ancestors of the characters in the show.
The premise what if an everyday Auckland family just happen to be Norse Gods was a tough concept to sell to TV3 but eventually they agreed to green light and production started with the working title was ‘Everyday Gods’
The story revolves around the Johnsons, in the first episode the youngest brother Axl turns 21, at that point discovers he is the reincarnation of Odin and to fulfil his destiny he needs to find the Goddess Frig so all the Gods can attain their rightful powers. Axl was played by Emmet Skilton although a newcomer, manages to play of the naivety of the character well, you can tell throughout the series as his acting experience increases so the character develops this journey works well as it mirrors the character in the way his knowledge and abilities develop.
His brothers are Mike – Ullr The God of the Hunt
Anders – Bragi – The God of Poetry
Ty – Hodr the God of everything dark and cold
Also their Grandfather Olaf who is the oracle Baldr and doesn’t age so is a sprightly 90 year old.
Their father left them many years ago and their Mother went off to become a tree (yes that’s what I said). The family were basically raised by the elder brother Mike. Series 1 is the original concept which is Gods in every day life. It follows Axl as he comes to terms with his inheritance and the search for Frig. There is conflict as a group of goddesses want to stop him finding Frig which brings some interesting characters and situations to the fore.
One of the things that works so well in this show is the juxtaposition of the very dry humour and the serious topics of the drama. For example there is this conversation about someone they call ‘Coma Rob’ and how appropriate that is and maybe he should be called ‘Vegetative State Rob’ instead as strange as that sounds that sort of humour works well within the drama. Initially as they concentrate on the brothers you get to learn their powers and the way they impact both negatively and positively on their lives. Mike who is the God Ullr refuses to use his powers, as the God of the Hunt and games he could make a fortune gambling but refuses to as he struggles with the morality of it and an incident where he used his powers and someone got hurt.
The characters develop and change over the three series. To me one of the most interesting subplots is Ty Johnson, Ty is Hodr the God of everything dark and cold due to this his body temperature is cold and he finds it difficult getting close or having relationships as he could potentially freeze someone to death if he slept with them. His journey throughout the program can be heartbreaking at times but this characters journey is one of the things that raises it above the average television program.
We also get to know Goddesses and other Gods throughout the story such Michelle who is the Goddess Sjofn and struggles with the fact she is a minor Goddess. We also get to meet Colin Gunderson who is the God Loki (God of Mischief) superbly played in a suitably over the top way by Shane Cortese. Loki is in fact one of my favourite characters throughout the series, he may not have as much personal development but he is really entertaining.
This is definitely a show aimed at the adult audience and expect numerous sexual references (but they work in context). There is some light nudity which was cut for the show when in was broadcast on Syfy in the U.S.
It’s broadcast history outside New Zealand is a bit strange. In the U.K. all three seasons were broadcast on Syfy U.K. fully uncut, shortly after original broadcast in New Zealand. The U.S. Did not see the first series until July 2014 on the Syfy channel. This was after the show had been cancelled and as I mentioned above it was cut for broadcast.
As for it’s present availability (March 2020), in the U.K. it is available on Amazon Prime as part of your membership, from reading around in the U.S, it is on Netflix as for the rest of the world I am unsure. In physical media all three series are available on blu-ray in the U.K., New Zealand and Australia. A box set of all 3 series was finally released in the United States at the back of 2015.
If you want a fun show that is a bit different I highly recommend The Almighty Johnsons it is well worth the effort of looking it out.