Wrapping up series 1

April 18, 2011 § 3 Comments

As promised, here’s a quick set of final thoughts before wrapping up this series of blog posts.

The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette recently described the Almighty Johnsons as the “Show Most Clearly the Product of a Random Plot Generator. ” When thinking about an “out there” series like the Almighty Johnsons, it helps to focus on the metaphorical underpinings of the show rather than the obviously  fantastical elements.

Take the BBC show Being Human. It isn’t really about vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and zombies. (Well, it is, but bear with me here.) This British show, created and written by Toby Whithouse, is more accurately a supernatural take on addiction, HIV, emotional abuse, and other ugly facets of human existence. The stories Being Human explore how these maladies affect their victims — and the people whose lives they touch. Being Human layers its speculative fiction on top of a foundation of harsh truth, building out a superior example of modern urban fantasy. As speculative and wild as Being Human gets, it never strays far from its core premise.

The same can be said for the more outrageous Misfits series. Bolder, brasher, and crasser than Being Human, Misfits’ stories also center on basic truths like loneliness, loss, and abandonment even as it weaves time travel, superpowers, and psychotic milk villains into the mix. Plus there’s a lot more sex, swearing, blasphemy, and nudity — not to mention humor.

The Almighty Johnsons follows the same model as these two series. As crazy as its plotting get — Kiwi blokes as reincarnated Norse gods, with superpowers of immortality, accuracy, persuasion, strength, and thermodynamics — it holds fast to a deeper story. I haven’t entirely decrypted what that story is, yet. It seems to be based on the secret of some kind of hereditary disease, like bipolar disorder or Huntington’s Chorea, or something that like that, which hides itself, threatens relationships, and ultimately breaks down families, but I’m going to have to hand-wave on the details.

In TAJ, the afflicted don’t even know they are godhood carriers until they are adults even as they’ve already been touched by abandonment, abuse, murder (in Helen/Idunn’s case), and so forth. They just know that their lives are full of tragedy and ugliness that no one ever really discusses honestly and they only have each other to depend on, because you cannot bring family secrets into the larger world.

In the Johnsons, there’s one simple fact of godhood: it’s toxic. It hurts everyone it touches, destroys normalcy, and keeps even the nicest of people from living quiet lives. People might dream about and desire deification and its superpowers but TAJ shows a range of what-if dangers hidden within that dream. Each of the main Johnson characters offers a different tragic twist, whether it’s the unaging oracle who has given up on creating long term relationships with mortals or the iceman whose touch can send loved ones to the hospital. Even when trying to pass as normal, walls of lies and dishonesty keep them from relating to humanity in any healthy manner.

What makes the show compelling is that the creators and writers have managed to tell this story in a way that retains humor, hope, and optimism, and that celebrates the humanity of the victims, who love and fight, support and undercut, help and destroy each other along the way.

Wow, that’s all pretty depressing. So here’s a quick wrap-up on a few other points:

  • I was hoping at first that the girl gang was trying to take down gods — not that they were, themselves, goddesses. My reasoning was this: There shouldn’t ever be earthquakes, hurricanes, or other natural disasters simply because some  anthropomorphic deity has a bad day. A rational world is at odds with old-style gods and the arbitrary way they affect nature. Preventing Odin’s full return to power would have been a big success for the rationalists. Of course, it would suck all the fun out of the series too. (As would the Johnsons achieving their quest.) The status-quo of underpowered gods living among us feels just about right for dramatic potential.
  • Turns out that this all really was about Ty’s destiny, as the Oracles stumbling across the Colin Gunderson sign (late night with matches accident) certainly wasn’t pointing to any Frigg-finding. Ice, Ice, baby. My favorite bit of the entire series remains that Ty managed to snag himself a divinely ordained romance — and that it completely sucks. Ty’s stuck with Eva, bless him, and I can’t wait to see how that all goes down. Eva has far better backstory and conflict potential than sadly underwritten Dawn. In fact, it is exactly Dawn’s lack of conflict — except with Anders — that caused most of my issues with the character. Once she was dumped, she became far more interesting.
  • If series 1 was all about Ty, will Anders and Mike each get a season as well?
  • Will Gaia be back? Given how her room was decorated in Earth motifs, with her wearing Earth tones all the time, it seems as if the writers were really pushing the hints. And yet she and Axl did sleep together, so either she’s (a) not Frigg or (b) he’s not ready for her yet. I’m rather hoping for (a). I’d rather see Axl’s character move on than spend any more time trying to win her back. I still would like to see other pantheons, however, especially the Maori.
  • Mike is Mikkel, Anders is (obviously) Anders, Axl is probably Aksel. So what’s Ty?
  • Thor was, apparently, a Rule 1 violator of very long standing — and yet his family and friends didn’t seem to suffer.
  • You might think that episode 10 would make TAJ hard to sell to an American market (leaving aside issues with accents), but blaspheming about Jesus is so last decade (cite: South Park) — if not so 1960’s (cite: the Beatles). It’s actually Episode 4 and an offhand comment by Axl that would drive away American viewers and cause widespread protests, not the religious heresy.
  • Like all fantasy series, you must invoke the MST3K rule (“If you’re wondering how he eats and breathes, And other science facts, Just repeat to yourself ‘It’s just a show, I should really just relax'”) early and often with TAJ. Trying to reconcile the Valerie/ComaRob timeline with the Dawn-in-the-hospital/Eva-goes-on-a-date timeline is pointless, as is the “Why didn’t the Johnson boys react to the goddess name Freya” bit.
  • Rumor has it that a second series, if confirmed, would be announced late-May/early June.

§ 3 Responses to Wrapping up series 1

  • Al says:

    Thank you for this comprehensive blog. I really love the show, which makes me a bit subjective on … the subject of reviewing the series. I enjoyed your comments and actually some of your ‘final points’ for each episode made me go back and look for them; you have a keen eye for details which warms my geeky heart. I cannot wait for the series to show up on DVD – I think it will be released on 18th of May. I will definitely buy it – maybe they will add some nice extras.
    Anyway, thanks again, your comments were thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated,

  • Ash says:

    Ty, I think, is Tyr. Love your write ups 🙂

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