Diana Wichtel reviews The Almighty Johnsons

by Diana Wichtel / 05 July, 2013
Those displaced deities with their divine destiny are doing us a power of good.
The Almighty Johnsons TV3 review
The Almighty Johnsons: relaxed ensemble buoyancy.

The Almighty Johnsons is back for a third season, and that’s a good thing. It’s a good thing when any local drama comes back for a third season, especially one predicated on the preposterous notion that a bunch of Norse gods, forced to flee 19th-century Norway for reasons I forget, ended up in Hawke’s Bay. They deserve a television award, if we still had such things, just for getting it made.

The displaced deities remain hapless. Never mind fulfilling their divine destiny. These people are unable to go shopping without messing up. Some gods use their powers for the good of humanity. Mike, also known as Ullr, the unpronounceable god of games, uses his to win tools by guessing how many nails are in a jar at Mitre 10 (product placement!). His manipulative goddess girlfriend, Michele, is at him all the time to fix up the place. “I thought you liked bohemian hedonist decor,” he whines. Turns out she doesn’t.

He won’t use his mighty powers to renovate because… he’d rather be average. If Johnsons is a metaphor for the dreams and aspirations here at our end of the Earth – God knows, it must be a metaphor for something – we’re screwed.

Everyone is trying to act more normal this season. We can all relate to that. But as a result, the first episode was a bit like watching Nothing Trivial on Norse mythology night at the pub quiz. Or perhaps Friends, with Gaia as Rachel, unable to decide if it’s her destiny to be with nice, goofy Ross (Axl/Odin) or the louche Anders/Bragi. At least on Friends everyone had just one name.

Ty, the one with a penchant for ice, has decided his storyline is too ridiculous and has given up being a god altogether. He’s trying to win back Dawn, whose job in the series is to look put-upon on our behalf, by stalking her. “What’s your next trick?” muses Anders. “Pop out of her laundry basket with her panties in your mouth?”

Ty tries wooing her with some admittedly divine-looking cupcakes. Anders is not supportive of this romantic strategy, either. “The message she’s receiving,” he informs his lovelorn brother, “is ‘I’m gay’.” Perhaps he is. It would make as much sense as anything else.

Still, the cast is full of safe hands – Dean O’Gorman, Tim Balme, Michelle Langstone… They seem to be enjoying themselves, and that’s always half the battle.

The more arcane mythological bollocks that infested last season has been throttled back, though the action still includes scraping the remains of a goddess off the kitchen floor. And there is an apple tree growing out of the sofa in Axl’s flat. You never saw that on Friends. It’s meant to be some manifestation of his desire to create a New Eden, apparently, where he can dwell happily with Gaia. That seems unlikely, as she’s run off to have Outrageous Fortune-grade sex with Anders.

No one seems terribly worried any more whether Gaia turns out to be the goddess Frigg, the more indigenous Papatuanuku or Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. The writers are too busy playing around with the tropes of this kind of television.

Sample dialogue:
Dawn: Don’t do that!
Anders: What?
Dawn: Say my name in a terse fashion from behind me.

The best thing the show’s got going for it is the sort of relaxed ensemble buoyancy that developed on Outrageous Fortune.

But this is an hour-long comedy-drama and the drama bit is having a hard time competing with the gags. “It’s like that bloody guinea pig he had as a kid, Carmelita,” says Mike, as he deals with the dead body of Anders’s girlfriend, Helen. “I ended up burying that, too.” Sometimes the best way to deal with material this mad is to play it with a straighter face. Otherwise what you get is entertaining but a bit heartless.

THE ALMIGHTY JOHNSONS, TV3, Thursday, 8.30pm.
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