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Syfy's 'Almighty Johnsons' an amiable take on Norse gods

TelevisionColumnTelevision IndustrySyfy (tv network)The Vampire Diaries (tv program)
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Syfy's 'Almighty Johnsons' promises to get complicated and apocalyptic

In the fullness of time, in the country of New Zealand, it occurred to James Griffin and Rachel Lang that what their country needed was a television series in which four brothers and their cousin, who is really their grandfather, were the human incarnation of Norse gods. These gods had at some time in the far past crossed the rainbow bridge from Asgard to go among humans, who scared them off to the Antipodes, where their powers and godliness have been in decline ever since.

They called their show "The Almighty Johnsons," and in due course it was picked up by the American network Syfy, where it will premiere Friday.

As is so often the case in life, the question "Why?" is best answered with another: "Why not?"

We meet the youngest Johnson, Axl (Emmett Skilton), buying beer to celebrate his 21st birthday, as yet unaware of his incipient godhead. He does not notice that someone is trying to kill him or that the sky is full of meteors and the water in Auckland's Waitemata Harbor has turned red — or, indeed, that his roommate has a crush on him. (He is a little slow.) But soon enough he will be standing naked in the forest, in a circle of stones, surrounded by his family and holding aloft an ancient sword of power.

Axl's older brothers are serious Mike (Tim Balme), a.k.a Ullr, god of the hunt; roguish Anders (Dean O'Gorman), who is also Bragi, god of poetry; and middle-child-type Ty (Jared Turner), embodying Hodor, in charge of "all things cold and dark" (he fixes refrigerators). Cousin-Grandpa Olaf (Ben Barrington), a hard-partying ageless beach bum, is Baldr, god of light. I will let you find out for yourself which deity Axl becomes in the god lottery, but I believe it makes him his own great-grandfather.

There are goddesses around too, conspiring against the fellas. They have their reasons and their origin stories.

Pros: New Zealand is pretty. Kiwi accents are 100% adorable. ("I'll text you" comes out "I'll tixt you.") The company is companionable. The writing is decent, with flashes of sideways wit.

Reading ahead (the show has had three thoroughly recapped seasons back home), the plot promises to get complicated and apocalyptic — or perhaps I should say, Ragnarök-y — in a nevertheless personal way that should suit fans of supernatural soaps like "The Vampire Diaries" or "Charmed." As in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or "Xena: Warrior Princess," the epic and preposterous blend profitably with the commonplace and casual.

Cons: Nothing critical given the venue, though I don't suppose it will make many converts beyond its genre-friendly target demographic — it is no "Buffy," in other words. And Skilton doesn't strike me as a particularly strong central character, though this may be in part because Axl is himself unformed. (He has been given a dopier friend for comparison.) But there is a lot going on around him, and, as I say, those accents.

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'The Almighty Johnsons'

Where: Syfy

When: 10 p.m. Friday

Rating: TV-MA-LS (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17 with advisories for coarse language and sex)

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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