Friday, October 4, 2013

The Local Gods

Last week The Almighty Johnsons finished, ending what has for me been one of the great, short-lived Kiwi TV series.
I know a good number of people who didn’t watch TAJ, and even some who wouldn’t watch it because it wasn’t “their thing”. Even I was skeptical before it aired. For some the fantasy element was a turn-off, while even among its followers it seems the show might not have been ‘fantasy’ enough, grounded as it was by a small country’s TV budget and envying the FX clout the likes of bigger overseas series like Supernatural (which is probably a close comparison) wield.  For me, however, the mix of fantasy and the series’ ‘real world’ aspects was balanced perfectly; so much so in fact that I’m bewildered that more didn’t watch it, including friends of the Simian household. The show is about Norse gods inhabiting the bodies of very normal, very relatable Kiwi brothers – what’s not to understand about that?
It’s the balance inherent in the Johnson brothers and their Asgardian alter egos that was crucial to the critical success of TAJ. A series simply about quarreling gods on a quest I’d have no interest in (particularly on a smallish TV budget shot in West Auckland; we’ve been here before), and similarly if I were to follow a series about brothers who rub each other the wrong way then it would have to be pretty interesting for me to get through episode one. TAJ did that with its essential third ingredient; its adherence to the traits – clich├ęd or not, of the Kiwi male. Taciturn, not particularly graceful or articulate, stuck playing roles in a man's world which, in some cases (Mike, Axl) they’re not the best at, and all the while resisting using their questionable godly powers (with the exception of Anders) to draw attention to themselves. Add to the mix the expected god rivals of Loki (how fitting that an amoral trickster god should inhabit the form of a corporate lawyer), a cabal of minor goddesses led by the brothers’ own mother, and the sometimes absurd coming-of-age and coming-to-terms of the youngest Johnson destined to become the great Odin, and you have a pretty good premise for one series at least. The quest of the brothers to find Odin's elusive Frigg, thereby assuming their full godly powers and leaving the world of men, however, was a thread that ran throughout the three years, kicking into gear well and truly in 2013.

I genuinely believe that if it wasn't for the daggishness, the frustration of family dynamics and male communication, and the adherence to a real-world low fantasy motif, I'd not have been a fan of TAJ at all. But how can you not be a fan of a series that posits wise god Baldr as a laconic stoned surfer, its god of poetry Bragi a pathological PR shill, or (best of all) its demigod Thor as a failed goat farmer from the Waikato with a hammer from Bunnings? Fantastic. And, conversely, not fantastic. Added to that is the genuinely smart plotting and scripting writing under Outrageous Fortune's chief scribe James Griffin, some brilliant twists and turns, and, that blessing in modern television, a satisfying series conclusion. The series 3 DVD is already available; hopefully we might see a box set with the entire series in it. Waes thu hael, Johnsons, you've been quietly Almighty - and good on you, mate.

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