Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Almighty Johnsons: Family Dysfunction of Heavenly Proportions

NOTE: This piece was originally published on Critics at Large on August 13, 2013. If you wish to comment, please do so on that page.

(bottom left, clockwise) Timothy Balme, Emmett Skilton, Dean O'Gorman & Jared Turner in The Almighty Johnsons

Like many other stories, this one begins with a 21st birthday party (albeit set in a New Zealand locale with accents and culture somewhat exotic to North Americans). Expecting a big, beer-driven blowout, Axl Johnson (Emmett Skilton) gets a little more than he bargained for: apparently he and his brothers are reincarnated Norse gods, and now it’s his turn to enter the family business. With a title guaranteed to make any fourth grade boy involuntarily snigger, The Almighty Johnsons is like nothing else on television. Despite its over-the-top premise that Norse deities incarnated themselves into human beings, packed up from Norway in the 19th century, and emigrated to New Zealand, the ensemble comedy-drama has a refreshing lack of pretension, and leans on smart writing and appealing acting instead of special effects and melodrama. In an era with more teen vampires, werewolves, witches, and wizards than we know what to do with, this New Zealand export stands out with its narrative restraint, charm, and a maturity that exceeds that of its often emotionally-stunted characters.