Episodes 1 and 2
March 25, 2011 § Leave a comment
It really helps to have Kiwi friends. Especially when they introduce you to outstanding television that you wouldn’t see otherwise. Episodes 1 and 2 of the Almighty Johnsons really grabbed my attention, with a refreshing story and a fresh take on what could have been “No Ordinary Family” with accents. Instead, I was treated to the Johnson family.
There is something different about those Johnson boys. The Almighty Johnsons starts off as Axl Johnson is about to turn 21. Majority brings new challenges, not the least of which is people actively trying to murder him, a family secret to end all secrets, and discovering that he is fated to become the reincarnation of a Norse God. Odin, to be exact. As he stands naked in the woods. With a sword.
With a well paced, funny story line, the Almighty Johnsons balances the sheer absurdity of its premise with a solid family story about five ordinary fellows (four brothers and their non-aging grandfather) who must meet not just the ordinary challenges of day-to-day living but the added complications of living as reincarnated gods.
In addition to Axl/Odin, the family consists of Mike, also Ullr, god of skill, luck, hunting, skiing and just about everything conceivably enjoyable, who nevertheless manages to avoid having fun with his abilities. Tied down by his responsibilities, forced to take care of his brothers from the time he was 21, resentful of his position and yet shouldering it with great seriousness, Mike has turned his back on his Ullr side. Instead, he tries to live as a simple builder, believing that any use of his god powers will ultimately hurt others.
Next there’s Anders/Bragi, god of poetry and talking girls into bed. Weaselly, self-involved, and manipulative, Anders is not exactly an example of virtuous living. Drawn back into the family by Axl’s apotheosis (really, is there tv show that could use that word on a regular basis?), Anders is ready to make sure his needs are served and his survival ensured by guiding Axl with his less than lofty oversight.
Then there’s Ty, also Hodr, god of all things dark and cold. When arguing with Anders in the premiere, you can see that his powers are tied to his emotions, cooling the room as part of his “Mr. Freezy” anger. (There are also a few fabulous touches near the end of the episode where the brothers running to save Axl are breathing heavily and visibly in the cold air. Ty, running several degrees cooler, does not frost the air with his breath. It’s a lovely grace note, showing how well these people have imagined this series.)
And then there’s Axl. Who doesn’t have any powers. Because he has embarked on a “sacred quest” (as sacred as these beer swilling, rough talking, morally flexible blokes can handle) to find Frigg, queen of the gods. And if he does not, and he dies, he’s taking down his entire family with him as well as causing many natural disasters.
As far as these first two episodes go, Mike is the character who really caught my attention — although I expect both Anders and Ty to develop their stories in future episodes, and Axl’s growth is likely to appear throughout. Although he acts as the Dad, in fact raised Axl for the last 15 years, it’s clear that this is a horrible position to throw any guy into. Like Coma Rob (aka Rob the persistent vegetable), he’s lost his youth and freedom. He may not be lying in a hospital room, but he never got to experience the carefree life that his brothers so clearly enjoy. Did the Coma Rob incident lead to the mother giving up and going to become a tree? It’s unclear.
Doesn’t matter which came first, Mike is a living tragedy. Full of godlike skill, and trapped by human responsibility. Although the writers made it clear that Gods and Goddesses don’t get along after a while, and tend to avoid each other, that’s hardly any excuse for the mom shooting through — not sure if that’s just character bitterness talking or a fact of Norse God life. The Coma Rob incident could have precipitated the situation in that having a newly reincarnated stupid Norse God around, after having had Njordr leave years earlier put new-found tension on Mom. Hard to tell.
And poor poor Mike, having the accident on his conscience — believing he’s responsible for Coma Rob (which he is, but only tangentially), that he’s gotten away with stealing Rob’s girlfriend (which he did, but Rob was vegetative), that he doesn’t deserve happiness at all (which is wrong). I certainly feel for him.
In the end, Mike ended up having to finish raising three kids, which is a major step down from that first rush of “I’m a God!”
Then there’s Anders. I really enjoyed Anders, especially when they played the awful porn music whenever he charmed someone. He’s a thoroughly selfish horrible man, with no depth or point to his life, and his plan not only put the Netball girl in danger (by the way, it took me some careful listening and Googling to figure out what they were talking about by “Netball” because for most of the episode, I heard “Nipple” not “Netball” and couldn’t believe it was a NZ sport…) but also jeopardized Axl’s relationship with Gaia. Plus he gets all the best lines. In the end, it turns out that Gaia, Zeb, and Gaia’s friend Jamie were all a bit let down by Axl’s antics with the Netball girl. And this could really hurt the end game, especially if it turns out to be Axl + Gaia/Frigg.
We didn’t really see much about Ty in these two episodes. Ty does refrigeration repair, and lives in a lonely apartment full of broken refrigerators, and needs a really nice girl who can deal with the cold and darkness aspect that lies underneath the mildness. I did like how the writers keep him part of the mix, the brother everyone can go to to be honest with — even for Anders-levels of useless honesty and manipulation.
There’s Olaf. The surfer-Gandalf character. Interestingly, he’s incredibly irresponsible. Grampa initially comes across as a self-centered jerk; you can see where Anders gets it from. Olaf may be more mellow and useful on the whole, but in Episode 2 particularly, he’s still Anders-like in his treatment of women, dinnertime, keeping track of phones, and so forth.
And there’s Axl. Poor Axl. “No pressure then.” After watching these two episodes, I think it’s pretty obvious that Gaia (the earth) is Frigg, daughter of Fjorgynn, the earth. The problem is that she’s so *obviously* the intended, that it’s rather grating that they don’t just get going with their relationship. They’re already flatmates and friends. I hope they don’t play this as heavy handedly as these two episodes have shown, with her going all misty and needy on him and Axl being so incredibly dense and clueless.
Leaving aside the potential for romance, the heart of the show is the relationships between the brothers — as they navigate their real-world problems with Norse God overshadowing.
And the women in the show? Could the show pass the Bechdel test? It’s not really relevant here. The title of the show is a big hint that this story is all about the men. I actually find that really refreshing, that the important relationships (like on Fringe, which I still love John Noble in even if the plot lines there are pretty iffy these days) are between men. It’s lovely to have that kind of story happen, focusing on those loving yet tense relationships. Women have plenty of other screen time, so I’m not complaining.
I love the details that the producers keep adding into shots. For example, Zeb, the wierd roommate who wears that porkpie hat? In one scene in Episode 2 when Gaia is on the phone he’s in the background, playing with Axl’s sword. In another, you see a movie poster for Sione’s Wedding in the background. That’s just lovely stuff.