TV Preview: The Almighty Johnsons

By Nick Grant

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The road to Asgard reveals a divine comedy, writes Nick Grant

'The Almighty Johnsons' have come of age with their clever dialogue.
'The Almighty Johnsons' have come of age with their clever dialogue.

I must confess I haven't been a true believer when it comes to The Almighty Johnsons, the homegrown series about four Kiwi brothers who also happen to be reincarnated Norse gods.

I watched most of the first season when it debuted back in early 2011, but I didn't follow it religiously.

When season two rolled around, my observance became occasional at best: after
a few of the new episodes, I started forgetting to keep up and the brief snatches of the show I did subsequently catch while channel surfing didn't convince me to recommit.

I don't entirely recall why I wasn't more enthused about it. Perhaps it was due to
a feeling The Almighty Johnsons was too close a spiritual cousin to Outrageous Fortune, a sort of backdoor sequel to that already iconic ode to NZ's inner bogan, tricked out with some supernatural stuff to put audiences off the scent of a bunch of tropes past their use-by date.

Maybe it was because, even though it was absolutely on-trend (if not slightly ahead of the curve) as far as the recent glut of movies and television shows offering up reheated retellings of myths and fairy tales goes, I'd already been reading the work that arguably kicked it all off for some years.

(That'd be Bill Willingham's comic series Fables, in which displaced characters from fairy tales and folklore have taken up residence in New York City, where they grapple with matters both mythological and mundane in a witty yet gritty manner.)

And/or, possibly it was that, thanks to the demands of producing drama on a relatively tiny budget, there's a certain sameness to the look of South Pacific Pictures' product (which includes Shortland Street, Nothing Trivial and Go Girls, as well as Outrageous and Almighty) that made me think, "Meh, seen it before."

Whatever the case, I wasn't alone in not feeling the love. TV3's decision-makers demonstrated their diffidence by declining a third season, despite the second ending on a cliffhanger.

Hel, [this is the Norse spelling of hell] however, has no fury like an ardent fan scorned, and 3 relented after a storm of protest from Almighty adherents.

And so it was that last week I watched the second season's finale in order to get the gist of what's going on, and then followed it with the opening episode of season three.

It was, quite simply, a road to Asgard experience, revealing unto me what a divine comedy/drama The Almighty Johnsons really is.

I can't work out whether it's me or the show that's evolved - the gods move in mysterious ways, after all.

The addition of a trio of Maori deities late in season two obviously added some juice to proceedings, and the core cast members now completely inhabit their roles and deliver the zingy dialogue with a confidence not always evident earlier in the show's incarnation.

But its beating heart - the cunning conceit of using the characters' godly powers and preoccupations to operatically amplify their quotidian, relatable problems - was absolutely front and centre from the start.

I dunno why I failed to fully appreciate that before but I'm a complete convert now and - although I'm not claiming the series is absolutely immaculate - I hereby repent all my previous, petty reservations.

All hail the Johnsons!

The Almighty Johnsons' third season premieres Thursday, 8.30pm on TV3.

- Herald on Sunday

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