Occasionally, a lack of resources breeds ingenuity, and so it is with “The Almighty Johnsons,” a Syfy import from New Zealand. The out-there premise — four brothers, each of whom, upon his 21st birthday, acquires the powers of a different Norse god — yields fewer pyrotechnics than one might expect, but creates intriguing discussion about the show’s peculiar backstory. Decidedly different content standards between American and Kiwi censors (there’s some obscured nudity and a lot of bleeped-out expletives) creates a bit of awkwardness, but here, that’s a quibble. While it’s popular for series to talk about their mythology, not many revel in the process with quite as much gusto as this one.
The introduction to this Asgardian birthright comes through Axl (Emmett Couling Skilton), who is just celebrating his 21st birthday. In the midst of his party, however, he’s dragged away from the friend who constantly looks longingly at him (“Whale Rider’s” Keisha Castle-Hughes, all grown up) by his three brothers, who fill in the disbelieving lad on the family legacy.
Not only do they each have unusual powers — diminished, admittedly, from what they once were — but Axl might be the reincarnation of Odin, which has enormous consequences. Simply put, he can either unite the gods and restore them to their lost glory, or, if he fails to achieve his destiny, lead to all of their deaths.
Written by James Griffin and directed by Mark Beesley, “Almighty Johnsons” contains only the smallest dollops of special effects, as the premiere relies on the characters talking about what might happen. Indeed, big brother Mike (Tim Balme) helps convince Axl — skeptical at first, but increasingly excited at the possibilities — by playing rock-paper-scissors, which, thanks to his god-like powers, he never loses. It’s about as low-tech a demonstration of magic as one could conceive.
And yet, it’s all strangely compelling and fun, if still a little half-baked, including what’s motivating the rival group apparently determined to prevent Axl from completing his mission by trying to kill the poor kid off.
Syfy has built international acquisitions of programs that fit its brand into the network’s programming — much of it from Canada, such as “Lost Girl” and “Continuum” — with mixed results.
By that measure, this Kiwi extract is certainly a cut above. And while the feeling isn’t quite like being struck by Thor’s proverbial thunderbolt, for a hardy few who don’t mind their gods in street clothes, it will be easy to develop a pretty sizable crush on “The Almighty Johnsons.”