Birthday boy Tony Fyler talks gods.
Original ideas these days are eaten up and regurgitated by a faintly cynical US sci-fi and fantasy production machine, and often the results are staggeringly similar from show for show. Vampires and zombies and werewolves, oh my! Gods and fairies and succubi and incubi and witches and so…very…yawn.
So when a new fantasy comedy-drama came from, of all places, New Zealand, it had little in the way of Hollywood constraint or the factory feel about it, and audiences around the world tuned in. The Almighty Johnsons took the characters from Norse mythology and reincarnated them in a domestic setting in modern-day New Zealand, meaning they had to cope with the hassles of everyday life and the hassles of being the incarnations of mighty and technically immortal powers from the dawn of civilisation. The Johnsons of the title were four brothers and a grandfather all from the same family, all of whom are the vessels by which the Norse gods are incarnated. The set-up was neatly delivered in the pilot episode: when a potential god or goddess-host turns 21, they perform a ceremony and zap – the particular god or goddess whose turn it is gets incarnated into them. The Johnsons – Mike (elder brother and Ullr, god of games and hunting); Anders (unmitigated shag-rat and Bragi, god of poetry); and Ty (depressed fridge repairman and Höðr, god of isolation and darkness) perform the ceremony for their youngest brother Axl on the occasion of his twenty-first birthday, and, through the auspices of granddad Olaf (Baldr, god of perpetual renewal and part-time oracle), discover that the youngest Johnson is the incarnation of none other than Odin, the All-Father.
Odin, as it turns out, has a mission – to find Frigg (his goddess-mate) and marry her. This, if allowed to happen, will end the half-and-half life of the Norse gods, and give them their full powers, on Earth in the 21st century.
And so the premise of The Almighty Johnsons began. As anyone familiar with the mythologies of any particular pantheon might expect, there are gods, and there are goddesses. The goddesses, similarly incarnated into entirely mortal bodies (if the mortal dies, the god disaparates and joins the back of the queue for reincarnation), are not that keen on a world where the gods are returned to power, and set an increasingly demented range of traps for Axl, hoping to despatch Odin before he can find Frigg and essentially unleash the end of the world as we know it. Meanwhile, the Johnson boys have issues of their own to contend with – Mike is married to a mortal who knows nothing of the god business, and who desperately wants to have children. Ty, the permanent depressive, is in love with Anders’ secretary Dawn, but is forced to marry Hel, Goddess of the Underworld and outright headcase, because their god-forms are destined to be united in utter misery. It’s also worth pointing out that Hel is incarnated as Eva Gunderson, daughter of Colin Gunderson. Or Loki as he’s better known. Talk about the father-in-law from hell. Forget Tom Hiddleston if you can, Loki in The Almighty Johnsons is no moping Odinson, he is the Trickster Rampant – loving life, treating mortals like scum and at one point, just because he can, running for mayor. In what seems to be the grand tradition of Johnson brothers, Axl falls in love with an unattainable woman, his flatmate and best friend Gaia (You’d think the name was a clue, wouldn’t you? Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t…), which is tricky when you’re destined to find and marry someone else, no matter what her human shell is like.
There’s a delicious, demented quality to the storylines of The Almighty Johnsons, but it’s never played wholly for laughs, but for realism. And like all the most popular HBO shows, being free of a degree of US-audience sensitivity, there’s plenty of realistic, omnisexual raunch (as perhaps is only to be expected from the Norse gods). All your favourite gods are here – Odin, Thor (wait till you see him…), Loki, Heimdallr etc, as well as a host more that you may never have heard of, but who teach you mythology as their adventures intertwine with the Odin-quest.
It would too much of a spoiler for anyone who hasn’t seen any of the three seasons of this remarkable, funny, dramatic show to reveal whether the Johnsons’ quest for the Frigg actually succeeds or not, but suffice it to say that everything is neatly tied up by the end of season three, including what happens when your mother walks off into the forest to become a tree, whether it’s only Norse gods that incarnate, and whether true love really can conquer all.
After three seasons, The Almighty Johnsons was cancelled, having achieved a natural stopping point. That natural stopping point in no way slowed down fans around the world who clamoured for its return. That’s not to be, so the three delicious seasons of Norse mythological fun are all you get from the Johnsons. But if you’ve yet to encounter them, get on your Netflix today, and start watching one of the most innovative, fun, realistic fantasy shows in recent history, unburdened by the demand to take everything seriously, but unafraid to show human emotion and highlight the drama in a dramatic comedy. Get in with the Johnsons today, and save yourself a seat in Valhalla.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk