Review: The Almighty Johnsons (SyFy) 1×1

The Norse gods reincarnated – in New Zealand

In the UK: Thursdays, 10pm, SyFy
In New Zealand: Already aired. Season two coming soon

New Zealand has pedigree when it comes to fantasy TV. There was Children of Fire Mountain in the 70s and the award-winning Children of the Dog Star back in the 80s. But you’d be forgiven for thinking that’s where it ended.

Not so. For now we have The Almighty Johnsons, a winsome little comedy-drama from the creators of New Zealand show Outrageous Fortune (which became Scoundrels in the US) about four brothers who are the reincarnations of Norse gods. Which ones, what powers they have and why they’re stuck inside the bodies of a bunch of New Zealand lads – well, that’s something we learn all about during the first episode… as well as who wants to kill them.

Here’s a trailer.

Fantasy drama about four ordinary brothers who just happen to be descended from Norse Gods. Packed with action, drama, raunchy comedy, and larger-than-life fantasy, The Almighty Johnsons puts the Norse Gods right where they don’t want to be: in the bodies of a bunch of New Zealand lads with all the faults, flaws and desires of ordinary mortals.

Is it any good?
Well, I said winsome because while this is definitely above average, it’s not quite a slam dunk.

The basic problem at the moment is finding someone who isn’t a dick. Olaf (Baldr) and Gaia the flatmate with a crush on Axl are the closest to sympathetic characters, but the protagonists are eldest brother Mike (Ullr) who’s stern and humourless; Anders (Bragi) who uses his powers of poetry to seduce women; Ty (Höðr) who’s a bit of a cold fish; and youngest brother Axl (Odin) who’s just turned 21 and is an insensitive idiot. In true Norse fashion, almost all they do is drink beer and have fights with each other.

Facing off against them – for reasons not yet explained – are a group of goddesses (probably) who want to kill them, or at least want to kill Axl, which is probably understandable. None of them are nice and it’s interesting that the goodies are all male and the baddies are all female – couldn’t see that getting through a US commissioning process.

Gods behaving badly. Where have I heard that before?

Anyway, authentic and representative of myth it’s not and if you’re an Odinist, you might want to look away, since this isn’t the Odin All-father you might have been expecting. He doesn’t even have any ravens.

All the same, beyond the fact you spend your time, Outrageous Fortune/Scoundrels-style, rolling your eyes at the characters’ stupidity and unlikability, it’s quite a fun show. It’s nice to see a different country doing fantasy for a change, as well as a mythology different from the standard go-to fantasy genre of Greek mythology*. There’s some nice touches, the characters may be dicks but they’re fleshed out, personable dicks, a lot of imagination is on display – and for those so inclined, naked male bodies as well as the occasional female one – and there are enough mysteries to keep the viewer intrigued. And I’m sure each of the gods is going to go on a personal journey of self-discovery to get over their family issues, learn responsibility, etc. In fact, one of them does have such a near-literal journey ahead of him.

But in essence, it’s a show about New Zealand men who just happen to be gods, with their exploits metaphors for male problems and dilemmas – and the battle of the sexes. Just with more minor sword fights and lightning bolts.

So I’ll be watching for the next few episodes at least. Give it a try – you might like it.

And stay off Wikipedia – it’s full of spoilers.

* Yes, I know about Marvel’s Mighty Thor – name another TV programme or film that deals with Norse myth that wasn’t made in Scandinavia