The Almighty Johnsons, the show from New Zealand about Norse gods trapped in the bodies of human beings, is back for a second series. And it shows no signs of settling into a status quo and merely treading water. As soon as a dynamic is established it is thrown out, characters form alliances and betray each other, characters come and go and events have real and often unexpected ramifications. It’s got some strong soap opera elements, but they’re done well and with consequence.
I watched and found myself surprisingly engaged with the first series. The premise could have been hackneyed and the story familiar, but it seemed edgy, enjoyable and full of real characters that I actively cared about and a lot of stories that seemed to flow organically as well as encompassing unpredictability. I actually looked forward to the second series and had high expectations for it.
Featuring a smaller cast than the original series, and focusing more on the shifting dynamics within the Johnson family, but it is not scared to relegate some of them to the background, turn their worlds upside down or dispatch them completely. The only real certainty with the series is that everything can change quickly and that no one is going to remain the same. It makes for great watching and keeps the show interesting. It also means that you have to pay attention and can’t really miss and episode without getting completely lost.
As with many series, the show has an overreaching arc that it incrementally drives forward in every program, but the logical conclusion of the underlying story means that the show would end. In a lot of programs this means lots of digressions from the main story and padding it out as much as possible. Not with The Almighty Johnsons: it seemingly accelerates through what you would think is the status quo and gets to what you think would be the climax of the show before cancellation about two thirds of the way through the second series. It then proceeds to take it in an unexpected and satisfying direction.
It’s the strength of the writing, particularly of the characters and their interaction with one another, that makes the brave decision to burn through the main plot and arrive somewhere new and unpredictable so enjoyable. In lesser hands, or handled differently, it could lose the audience and feel like a cop out. Here it feels brilliant and fresh. I’m still watching because I am enjoying the series and because the writers don’t so much write themselves out of corners by throwing ridiculous developments on screen as find new and worse corners to write themselves into, upping the ante with each turn and seeing where it leaves the characters and the underpinning dynamic of the show.