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iBook Lessons: Beyond the Story ships interactive book app for Almighty Johnsons, the best show you're not watching


The Almighty Johnsons is probably the best show you're not watching -- unless you live in Canada. Although the show airs in New Zealand as well, the viewer numbers there are roughly enough to put together a basketball team. On a good day.

Crude, vulgar, hilarious and touching, the show is surprisingly well made, with a shoestring budget and a very real desperate sense of on-the-bubble/will-it-be-canceled-soon because of those pesty Kiwis who are failing to watch it. To put it in Canadian terms, it's as smart as Orphan Black, a lot funnier and more risk-taking than The Lost Girl.

The show plays in Canada, the UK, Australia and, of course, it "airs" (not that anyone watches) in New Zealand. Today, Syfy announced a deal to debut the show in the US in 2014 (hopefully without too many edits for American tastes). Sadly, that air date means that the renew/don't renew decision might happen long before the US gets its first glimpse of the Johnson family. (You can still write letters of support to TV 3 in New Zealand, South Pacific Pictures or tweet a note of support/drop off a Facebook like.)

That all said, the show has just jumped from the screen to iOS devices. Expatriate Kiwi developers Beyond the Story, based in London, but with Aotearoa accents, have been working with South Pacific Pictures, just recently delivering a show-specific app to the New Zealand and Canadian iTunes app stores.

Their custom, enhanced-book platform was built over several years, with a 2.5 million pound development investment. Able to transform any long form text into an interactive experience, Beyond the Story has previously produced the quite noteworthy Diary of Anne Frank and the somewhat less noteworthy After Earth: Kitai's Journal. They have worked with Penguin and Harper Collins on additional titles.

When visiting New Zealand, this past February, a meeting with South Pacific Pictures gave rise to the Almighty Johnsons app project. Offering script novelizations, behind the scenes insights, interviews with the actors, character sheets and more, the app includes a great deal of fan-centric material.

On the geeky technical end of things, the app provided some interesting implementation details. Apparently, this is the first-ever TV novelization that's delivered live as the series premieres. As each broadcast goes to air, the app enables each "chaptersode." This was a bit tricky when dealing with multiple geographies, and multiple screening times. The developers focused on not ruining the experience for anyone. You cannot access a chaptersode until that program has gone to air. (When the app goes live in the UK and Australia, it will coordinate to the local broadcasts there for the third series.)

Is it a great app? It... feels a little like DVD extras. This includes the hokey background music and tap-to-jump menu structure. The novelization is, well, what it is. It's not horrible, but I'm a little confused as to why it was included. The writing is fairly stiff, bringing little extra insight or liveliness. The background text material, too, feels like it's been repurposed, although I'm not entirely sure of that as a fact.

The app presentation itself and the underlying engine, on the other hand, did show great promise. I'd very much like to check out the Anne Frank app now after seeing this one. I'm told the Anne Frank book/app will release globally near October.

The best bits, in my opinion, are the behind-the-scenes video snippets, even though some of them are extremely spoilery at this time, especially James Griffin's discourse on Yggdrasil (although I do adore his shirt-of-radio-art). So be warned.

I did not encounter any of the instability that users have mentioned in iTunes reviews. I tested the app on a somewhat geriatric iPad 2 running iOS 6.

Is it worth the Canadian $3.99? I can't see why not, although spoilerphobes will want to wait until the entire series has aired before picking up a copy. It's as cheap or cheaper than a TV show magazine might be, and probably will offer at least as much enjoyment.

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