Working Through The Queue: Ragnarok Season 1 (2020) & Season 2 (2021)
Ragnarok was one of those shows that was on my radar and queued up, but I kept dragging my feet. Partly because of wanting to catch up to other shows, and partly because I feared this would be pretty much Smallville, but with Thor. And here's the thing, it very much is and feels sort of like a CW show, but if the CW was good. And I know there are a lot of Arrowverse fans and there's nothing wrong with liking CW stuff, I've enjoyed some of the Flash myself. But the CW has a certain style and a generally vapid gloss to it where everyone is a pretty human even when they're the bad guys or the monsters. It all feels like an empty high school drama and I have a hard time sitting through large chunks of it. Meanwhile, I blitzed through both seasons of Ragnarok in a week's time. So if you want an angsty teen drama (and it's ok here because they actually are teens) with superpowers, I highly recommend checking this series out.
And seriously, just watch it with subtitles. The dubbing is ok enough I guess, but every actors performance is so much more nuanced and engaging when you're hearing them speak their own language.
The series follows the Seier family as they move to the fictional Norwegian town of Edda. The widowed mother of the family, Turid, has gotten a job at Jutul Industries, the obligatory corrupt corporation that's probably poisoning the town. The story focuses on elder brother Magne who slowly begins to discover that he's a reincarnation of Thor, and his younger brother Laurits who is obviously Loki. Seriously, I'm not spoiling anything, just look at the kid. That's a Loki. And he's great.
Anywho, Magne is set on a journey which will bring him to clash with the Jutul family, who are not only heads of the corrupt corporation that's poisoning the land but also a secret group of jötunn (or giants).
The set-up is pretty straight forward and mostly predictable, but in an enjoyable and well told way. The combination of the production quality, solid acting, beautiful locations, decent special effects (not too much, and evenly parsed out throughout the show), and dedication to playing with Norse mythology all make it an incredibly engaging show. I think one aspect I really appreciate is also the pacing, as each season is only six episodes long. The storytelling feels very concise and they tend not to waste much time or spread any plots too thin. Everything serves a purpose and there are no major dangling plotlines.
If I have to find a negative in the storytelling it's that they took one of the more interesting female characters and fridged her very early on in the show to give Magne some extra motivation. It's not great, but it also could have been handled worse so we can deal with it.
One of the aspects I really like is that most of the characters get a lot of time to shine and develop, and this includes the villains. Their presented as a unique family unit, all with plenty of faults and strengths and reasons for you to start to care about them despite their horrible motivations. There's a great scene where Vidar, the patriarch of the group, is about to go on the warpath and potentially expose the nature of the family. One of the other members points out that he's gotten so used to eating candy and watching TV that they would potentially lose those modern day perks if they were exposed, and he immediately backs down. There's a lot of very human moments given to the most inhuman characters and I love that.
Virtually everyone has an arc with some twists and turns, and it fleshes the characters out so well that you really do care about where they'll land. Magne's brother Laurits gets a lot of great focus, especially as he's exploring with gender and sexuality. And while I don't think she gets enough story time overall, their mother Turid is one of the most likeable and relatable people as she's just trying to raise her two boys and deal with their sass.
Season two didn't feel as strong for me, but I did still like it. I think that the push of the story flipping over to other gods joining Magne, while making perfect sense, detracted a bit of my enjoyment. Here it just felt like your typical 'now we gotta put the team together' sort of story, and I didn't care as much about these characters. It also felt like the writers had a hard time figuring out how they wanted to balance the character development, so there was just a bit less time spent on making us care much about the new focus characters. The guy who becomes the god Týr is sorta....just there. He does some stuff and fulfills a purpose, but we need more time if we're supposed to really care.
One aspect that I truly loved, and this may sound weird, is just that everyone feels and looks like an actual real human. Like Magne looks like a Thor of the real world, and not an MCU or CW sexy sexy man. Even the sexiest of characters still feel grounded, and this just goes a long way for me.
If you're looking to see a different yet still somewhat familiar approach to televised action/fantasy supehero-ish stories then I would highly recommend giving this show a shot. If you're also a fan of Norse mythology and are interested in seeing more modern takes on it this is also fun for that aspect. For example, I thought how they handled the Midgard Serpent was pretty clever, and I really hope to see that sub-plot play out. And honestly, it's all worth it just for the Loki kid, so everything else is just a plus.