Almighty Johnsons: back from the brink

Last updated 09:28 05/07/2013

In an article for Psychology Today titled Bright Lights, Big Mystery, writer James Mauro outlines a few personality changes observed in those who go through a near-death experience - survivors who've "seen the light" often display increased spirituality, are more compassionate toward others, and so on.

20130705Local show (and personal favourite) The Almighty Johnsons experienced its own near-death experience late last year after news broke that it was to be cancelled in the wake of a somewhat disappointing second season*.

However, the show was brought back from the brink after fans complained: talks resumed with TV3 and a third season was put into production, premiering last night at 8.30 with an episode that picks up right where Season 2 left off (Axl and Gaia trying to move on with their relationship in spite of the revelation that Gaia is the reincarnation of Idun, Anders/Bragi's destined true love) and which sets up what should be an exciting season.

(Warning: spoilers from last night's The Almighty Johnsons follow.)

But I can already spy a few of those personality changes James Mauro was talking about in his article, linked above. Here are a few signs The Almighty Johnsons has been through a near-death experience ...

It's displaying a heightened sense of purpose.
As good as Season 2 was, it seemed a little rudderless at times. Sure, there was lots of mythology inserted into the show and the world of TAJ expanded beyond the realm of the Norse Gods. Yet, for much of the season, it seemed the focus was taken off the relationship among the brothers. If anything, it was that interplay between the members of the Johnson clan that gave the show its biggest point of difference, and defined the show as uniquely Kiwi.

Season 3 seems set to put the focus right back on the Johnson clan, with Anders and Axl fighting over the same woman, while Ty and Mike drift further away from the family - Ty toward being not-a-god-anymore, and Mike into an ominous relationship with goddess Michele. It helps that Anders is back fulltime; actor Dean O'Gorman was missing for much of Season 2 due to filming obligations on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. It's good to have him back.

It's shown a desire to learn.
I haven't spent a lot of my previous reviews focusing on problems, but it does seem the crew have made efforts to learn from mistakes and improve. Gaia seems more fleshed out, with Keisha Castle-Hughes getting more to do in this episode (and the end of last year) than she did early on. The decision to have Gaia hook up with Anders at the end of the premiere was a good one, getting the action moving quickly instead of dragging things out for longer than necessary. It's a welcome change from the "Gaia is Frigg" speculation that clouded the first two seasons.

I also loved the subtle uses of power in the premiere - Mike (Tim Balme) using his powers as God Of Games to dispose of a dead body or figure out that Axl was engaged ("Guess what!" "You and Gaia are engaged." "Yeah - how'd you know?" "You turned it into a guessing game, Axl."), for example. I know the Johnsons have followed a policy of not using their powers often, but it always seemed they could've done more than they were doing.

It has increased physical sensitivity.
How many naked bodies were in last night's premiere? And is it hot in here?! Just me? Okay.

There's a feeling that they are now using their whole brain.
Okay, The Almighty Johnsons was always an intelligent show. Even so, I can't help but think that Season 3 is a more complete production. Last night's premiere was the full package: great performances from the likes of Castle-Hughes and O'Gorman, a clever and interesting story path, sleek dialogue and stylish visuals, a couple of brilliant musical choices, even some nice editing choices. I know its early days, but it feels like the team behind the show has a greater determination to put out a quality product. They're succeeding so far.

It has a greater appreciation for life.                                                                                                   
I visited the set back in late March; they were filming the eighth episode at the time, so I can't say too much - but one of the things I took away from the visit was how optimistic everybody seemed about Season 3. Talking to Fern Sutherland (Dawn), Ben Barrington (Olaf) and producer Mark Beesley, it was as though they felt they had been given a second chance to make a first impression, almost as though the show had a blank slate and that the near-death experience had never really happened. As I watched the third season premiere last night, it did feel like a fresh start.

I thought that was a brilliant premiere, a show on a mission to be the best it can be. And it's paying off. I can't wait to see how the rest of the season unfolds.

Did you watch the Season 3 premiere of The Almighty Johnsons? What did you think?

(*) Ironically, while the show was performing badly here at home, it was proving a hit internationally: the third season of the show has been picked up by SPACE in Canada, who are running it a day behind NZ, as well as by the Nine Network in Australia and by SyFy UK, where it's been a fan-favourite - PLUS, a deal is in the works for The Almighty Johnsons to air in the USA. That's the NZ-made version I'm talking about, not an adaptation, which is a first for NZ TV. Bravo!

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If you're finding this review isn't enough coverage of The Almighty Johnsons for you, check this out: Stuff web editor and Johnsons super-fan Mike Kilpatrick has joined me to do a weekly review podcast about The Almighty Johnsons, titled The Lesser Gods - new episodes of the podcast go live after each new episode of the show, at 9.30pm on Thursdays. You can follow us on Twitter or Facebook. I'll also embed each new episode here at On The Box.

Here's our take on the Season 3 premiere:

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