How diminishing the female characters in
“The Almighty Johnsons”
led to it’s premature cancellation
by Dr. Rosanne Welch
Thanks to Netflix for once again ushering me into a wonderfully creative new universe of characters created in another country who endeared themselves to me while I took a slow dive binge (did it across a week instead of a day) through the three paltry seasons they were given on New Zealand television.
I’m talking about The Almighty Johnsons — which I somehow missed when they aired here in the States on the Syfy Network despite my frequent viewership of that station. What I’m talking about today is why I think the show declined in its ratings enough to have been canceled — twice — Once, after their 2nd season, they earned a third season due to a well-organized fan protest where folks sent twigs (which represented the mythical Norse tree of life called the Yggdrasil) to TV3. But then the ratings declined and they were fully canceled after season 3. Why? That’s the question I want to address by analyzing the way the female characters — mostly goddesses — de-volved after season one.
First, let me summarize the show if you don’t know it. (Or you can pause and check out Wikipedia, then restart when you’re clear.) The Almighty Johnsons are a family of four New Zealand men in their mid to late twenties who are human incarnations of Norse gods with the youngest, Axl Johson, learning he is Odin on his 21st birthday as per tradition.
Axl’s mission will be to find the human incarnation of his goddess mate — Frigg –once they are reunited all the other Norse gods on Earth will be vaulted back to their true home, Asgard, where they will come into their full powers and rule as gods. Yay! But this mission is where these empowered goddesses come into the story as they try to kill Axl/Odin because they’ve gained more power as humans than they would be given in Asgard where the male gods would reign supreme. Love a clean, clear conflict in a series!
Look, I’m NOT a fan of women being made powerful by their intention to commit murder or other violent acts usually associated with males. Yet that seems to be how equality of gender works in media these days (as seen in The Hunger Games) — So I understand how these attempts at killing Axl/Odin made these goddesses a group of women with a clear plan and a commitment to carry it out. They shared several scenes per episode alone making plans and when they appeared with the male gods, they were generally beating them at their own game through the use of cool talents such as archery (still widely popular among girls thanks again to the Hunger Games and — one hopes — reruns of Buffy, which if you have never seen you better catch up on — Now).
Back to the misuse of the female characters on The Almighty Johnsons. Their leader was also a woman (unlike the unseen male leader of Charlie’s Angels all those years ago). In this case she is the goddess Freyja who goes by Agnetha in her human form and just so happens to be the Johnson’s mother.
She took a powder after letting her oldest son, Michael know he was the god Ullr — and that he would be the sole provider for his younger three siblings as Agnetha abandoned them. She’s over 40, she’s strong and she’s unapologetic — all interesting characteristics for a female character on television these days. Mostly — from The Sopranos to Breaking Bad — wives and mothers are props to be seen putting up with the bad dads but here Agnetha is the bad parent (though their dad (who will show up eventually in the series) also abandoned them Agnetha seems to have done them far worse. She dropped the bomb that Mike WAS a god — Ullr — then left him to raise his brothers alone). Just as I was enjoying such a fun female villain (spoiler alert) the newly emerging male villain — the god Loki — came along and killed her. Yes, Loki was a blast to watch but working together with Agnetha he could have been even more fun rather than losing the female bad guy as well. I was expecting her to marry him and create a partnership of villainy that would have played off the classic fairy tale ideas of evil step-fathers and mothers but instead the writers opted to let the male villain destroy her and take over her place as the biggest force working against Axl and his brothers.
I believe that with time to plan their series, the creators — James Griffin and Rachel Lang
who wrote the bulk of the first season- initially created a set of empowered, interesting and distinct females in season one with many a scene that could pass the Bechdel Test.
But perhaps due to the pressures of production OR because the female creator Rachel Lang entirely disappeared from the writing credits (did she become occupied with other pilots?) they defanged all the goddesses in seasons 2 and 3 when — after the loss of their leader, Agnetha, they came to be defined not by their own individual goddess powers (of prudence, love and fertility) but by which male god they attached themselves to sexually in the various episodes.
I think what added to its early demise was the fact that female viewers (who had to be a high demographic on a show with 5 such good looking male actors) were also given female characters they could enjoy watching and that brought them into the show in droves. When those characters lost their power, the show lost a bit of its spark.
Perhaps the writers recognized that as a reason for the drift because when they came back in season 3, we saw a revival of the goddess power when Michelle/Sjofn learned how to harness the power of the Yggdrasil– a limb from the tree of life that enhances your personal power — but ONLY of the female gods and not the males. This was a COOL idea — inventing something that only worked for the women — almost an apology for having dropped the ball on their characterizations for the whole of season two.
Before I get into how the stick — as the male gods (impotent to its power) derogatorily — or was it pornographically — called it — Before I get into how the stick returned some power to the females via Michelle/Sjofn, I have to take a side trip to mention another one step forward / 2 steps back moment by noting that the ‘stick’ only gave Stacey/Fulla/handmaiden to Frigg the power to be a better pole dancer.
I imagine the writers went that way because it was funny and because the actress, Eve Gordon, was a performer and producer or aerial spectaculars so why not use that talent in the show? Why not? Because it was a blatant moment of over-sexualizing a character who had already had sex with a few of the regulars and would settle into the spot of long-term sex partner to the Johnsons’ older, odder oracle of a grandfather, Olaf/Baldr. The writers seemed to be taking a small stab at making Stacey more than a sex joke when she began to run her own bicycle delivery firm, but her major power continued to be making mad love.
So — Back to how the stick enhanced Michelle’s power — Since as a human Michelle was a doctor, she gained the power to heal people of any disease or ailment. Together with Ingrid they began a ministry of sorts geared toward teaching women to harness their individual consciousness and confidence to heal themselves… but then for extra cash Michelle would take individual meetings where she would lay hands on women with persistent pain and instantly heal them. When Anders/Bragi discovered her plan he wanted in — but had no power to swap her for the privilege EXCEPT for his brains, which sadly did out perform Michelle’s because Bragi reminded her what happened to the last god who walked around curing men — yeah, that crucifixion didn’t sound like an appealing end. So he came up with a plan that she should have come up with herself — to create a luxury spa where people came to feel good and as one masseuse among many it would seem random who was cured and who was not so that Michelle would not make herself into a martyr. Michelle and Ingrid should have been smart enough to concoct that idea on their own. Once again, it took a male to ‘save’ the female… not sure I liked that, but the show ended before Andres/Bragi’s plan could become a reality. I thought Michelle or Ingrid should have realized the potential danger in the plan herself and fought the other woman, who could have been so high on the power she refused to face the truth.
Again, though, the new women in season 3 had more strength than the original goddesses. When Axl/Odin finally met his Frigg she knew that when she joined with the earthly Axl to fulfill the prophecy and raise them all back to Asgard, it would kill her brother-protector, but she sacrificed that relationship to save the world, finally harnessing a true female strength NOT created by wreaking violence but by bringing people together. So while the show did not let its original goddesses evolve well, I believe they made up for it by allowing the goddesses of season 3 embody truer female strength — but by then it was too late.
This sort of thing seems to happen quite a lot — really well meaning male writers set out to create more powerful women, then get rushed and fall back into old habits. Perhaps all writers need to remember the words of Abigail Adams when she told her husband John that while working on the Declaration of Independence he ought not to forget the ladies.
If more writers remembered that, the ladies — who are often the most devout of viewers — won’t forget them. Now, in conclusion I don’t want to have bashed too badly on the staff of The Almighty Johnsons as I adored enough of the creativity, comedy and male characters on the show enough to binge it — and I suggest you try it, too.
If you have any comments or ideas to share, let me know via the comments,
email at Mindfull@3rdpass.media or via Twitter @MindfullMedia and we’ll develop your ideas as we go.
— This Article was written by — Dr. Rosanne Welch
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