"Good Omens" – Series Review (S01E01-E06)

And we come to the adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's 1990 novel Good Omens. Adapted by Neil Gaiman after almost 20 years in development hell. One might argue that it took that long for the special effects capability to catch up to what the story required: the Kraken rises, the Antichrist hovers above a forest and flies after his friends, a giant Satan crawls out of the Earth, demons melt in holy water and chase each other down phone lines.

A couple of disclaimers. First, either I haven't read the original novel or it was so long ago I don't remember. The story seems vaguely familiar, but whether that's my memory cheating, or the changes between the novel and the teleplay, or something else, who knows? I'm just here to review what's on the screen, not what was changed from the novel or what was in it originally.

Another disclaimer is that yes, the review is relatively late. Unfortunately I have a life, which involves a job. So even though the series dropped on Amazon Prime on May 31, here's the review on June 9, nine days later. Next up, Black Mirror Season 5, but I won't finish the new season of that until next weekend. And I may not review it: believe it or not, if I have nothing to say, I just don’t say it.

(If folks want me to have more time to review, contact me so I can tell you how to send those thousands of dollars so that I can pay for things like food, electricity, and shelter. I'm curiously addicted to the habit of eating. :) )

I do have stuff to say about Good Omens, which brings us to the review. Since Pratchett died in 2015, Gaiman has been struggling to adapt the novel. Which took his attention away from the TV version of American Gods, which might explain why the second season of that was a wet squib. Gaiman has also been busy with Lucifer: it was cancelled on Fox (and Gaiman's narrator duties as God on the last Fox episode), but Netflix picked it up. How much of that involved Gaiman, who knows? But he's been a busy boy.

Michael Sheen, David Tennant, Good Omens S01E01Good Omens boils down to two major plots. One is the friendship between the angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and the demon Crowley (David Tennant). They met when Aziraphale guarded Eden and Crowley (then called "Crawly") tempted Eve. Down through history, the two of them have met, realized that neither of their sides care what they do as long as they get results, taken turns covering for each other, and struck up a friendship.

That wouldn't be much of a story by itself. So the "real" story is that Armageddon is a'comin. Eleven years ago the Antichrist is born. The Satanic nuns charged with exchanging the Antichrist for the newborn son of a diplomat screw it up, and the Antichrist ends up named Adam (Sam Taylor Buck) is raised by Arthur and Harriet Young in the small English village of Tadfield. The Youngs' child ends up named Warlock and is raised by the diplomat and his wife. The third child is presumably quietly killed off-screen.

What this all means is that both sides figure Warlock is the Antichrist. Aziraphale and Crowley are charged with bringing him up "properly", which features a weird sequence of Tennant in drag and Sheen made up as a fat gardener. Meanwhile, Adam lives in Tadfield and leads an adventurous group of kids: Pepper, Wensleydale, and Brian.

David Tennant, Good Omens S01E05

When Adam becomes 11, his Antichrist powers manifest. Crowley and Aziraphale realize who the real Antichrist is. Heaven and Hell both want a war to settle things once and for all, but Aziraphale and Crowley have grown fond of Earth. Aziraphale is a gourmand and runs a bookshop, and Crowley saunters around like Mick Jagger, drives a Bentley, and plays Queen songs constantly. They have their problems: Aziraphale tries to contact God, discorporates, and ends up back in Heaven. The demons realize Crowley is undermining their plans and hunt after him.

To further complicate things, Anathema Device (Adria Arjona) is the descendant of a witch and prophetess, Agnes Nutter. Agnes predicted the Apocalypse, and her prophecies have been passed down through the family line, and Anathema comes to Tadfield to find and kill the Antichrist. On the other side is Newton Pulsifer (Jack Whitehall), a descendant of the witchfinder who killed Anathema's ancestor. He falls in with Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell (Michael McKean), who works for both Aziraphale and Crowley on the side, and makes them think he has a huge organization when it's just him. Shadwell lives in the same building as Madame Tracy (Miranda Richardson), who he calls a harlot and a Jezebel. Tracy clearly has a thing for him.

Shadwell eventually sends Newton to Tadfield to find a witch. Newton and Anathema meet, and fall in love. That's after Anathema has met Adam and given him magazines on conspiracy theories. With his burgeoning powers, he unconsciously makes the conspiracies real. So Tibetan secret masters of the Earth dig up through the highway, aliens land bearing messages of galactic peace, and the Kraken starts eating Japanese whaling ships when Adam decides to save the whales.

Yusuf Gatewood, Mirielle Enos, body of Jamie Hill, Lourdes Faberes, Good Omens S01E05

Also, the Four Horsemen--War, Famine, Pollution (Pestilence retired), and Death--come to Tadfield to help the Antichrist start Armageddon by using the "worldwide military net" to launch nuclear missiles worldwide.

Along the way we get a 25-minute view of history as Aziraphale and Crowley keep meeting up. A dissertation on how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. The execution of Agnes. And lots of little vignettes.

If this sounds kind of muddled, that's because it is. Good Omens is essentially a six-hour miniseries. And it crams a lot in. Some subplots get short shrift, and there seems to be a rush to get as many "big name" stars in as possible. For instance, David Morrissey has a brief bit as a liner captain who is there when Atlantis rises from the waves. Benedict Cumberbatch is the voice of Satan. Jonathan Aris plays a quartermaster in Heaven. Demons come and go. From what I've read, the novel was a sweeping worldwide panorama. And I'm all for mini-series (serii?) that tell their story and end rather than build up for another season or a sequel. But it often feels like Gaiman tried to cram as much as possible into the TV adaptation as he could and didn't have room for all of it in six hour-long episodes.

David Tennant, Good Omens S01E05

One advantage of putting up a review relatively late is that you get to read other reviews. As many reviewers noted and I would agree, the best part is the odd-couple pairing of Aziraphale and Crowley. Tennant has the "fun" part as the demon who isn't very evil. He gets to wear lots of wigs and sunglasses, but Tennant is at his best when he's driving down M25 in Crowley's beloved Bentley, grinning... well, demonically.

Sheen as Aziraphale is also good, but in a quieter part. He portrays a fussy, white-wearing angel who runs a bookshop and quietly undermines his superiors, mostly embodied by Gabriel (Jon Hamm). Hamm seems to be having a ball as the smug know-it-all archangel. None of the other angels we see have the presence of Sheen or Hamm. The demon dukes have a bit more personality: I liked Ned Dennehy as Hastur, who has a few moments of goofiness as he finally gets a grasp on humor (I liked his "Hastur la vista"), and provides most of the horror. In one scene he enters a call center as a wave of maggots, eats everyone there, and reforms his body. Anna Maxwell Martin as Beelzebub is also good, but she doesn't have much to do until the finale.

In case you didn't get it from the above, Gaiman and Pratchett portray Heaven and Hell as two sides of the same coin. Bureaucratic organizations that are fighting a war just because they have to settle who is the better and think that Armageddon will do it. They are interchangeable: in the end Michael helps Hell execute Crowley, while Ligur provides Hellfire to execute Aziraphale.

Sam Taylor Buck, Good Omens S01E06

The ending where the two friends are executed is also a bit rushed. There's a last-minute bit of hocus-pocus so that they're both immune to the other one's execution method, But the entire last episode is rushed. Adam turning on Satan doesn't make sense: he complains that Satan was never there for him and his human father was. But we've barely seen Arthur (Daniel Mays), and he's never interacting with Adam except in a distracted "I'm reading the paper while my young scamp goes off on his own" way.

When Sheen and Tennant are on the screen, Good Omens is entertaining. And they're on the screen a lot, so Good Omens is mostly entertaining. When it focuses on those two, the series is great. When it cuts away to Shadwell (a British witchfinder inexplicably played by American actor McKean), or Newton, or Anathema, or Adam and his gang, not so much. As with Gaiman's Lucifer and American Gods, the celestial characters are more interesting than the human ones. Gaiman seems to think so, too: he makes even the secondary celestial characters like Gabriel and Hastur more interesting than Anathema, Newton, and Shadwell. The celestials are also the "bigger" parts: for instance, Newton is basically a doofus who has horrible luck with computers. This is gaslit in episode two and then doesn't get mentioned again until the finale when his computer ineptitude plays a critical role in stopping Armageddon.

The exception is the Horseman, who comes across as interesting but never really get much screen time and characterization. Pollution in particular suffers: we see her admiring a polluted river and that's it. War and Famine are at least busy spreading their craft: War is disrupting peace accords and Famine is kicking off a line of non-food "food". They quietly fold up shop and "die" at the end. Death doesn't die, and I get the impression Gaiman is trying for something profound. But the deliveryman Lesley (Simon Merrells) who brings them their relics has more personality than any of them.

Mmchael Sheen, Good Omens S01E04

Also, one gets the impression Gaiman and Pratchett cribbed heavily from Douglas Adams. Or maybe it's just the British style of humor. God (Frances McDormand) provides the friendly narration, and stops occasionally for side trips like the aforementioned "dancing on the head of a pin" scene. Where we find out that Aziraphale learned the gavotte and was disappointed when it went out of style, and Crowley can dance... but not at all well. However, there are worse authors to borrow from than Adams.

Overall, Good Omens is a hilarious celestial British comedy. I wouldn't go into it looking for much of the human characters, but if you want to see a Heavenly and Hellish comedy of celestial discord--Supernatural from the celestial side of things rather than the Winchester side of things--then Good Omens is the show for you.

But that's just my opinion, I could be wrong. What do you think?

Written by Gislef on Jun 9, 2019

Comments

Gislef posted 12 days ago

Sheen and Hamm were the standouts besides Tennant. McKean was okay, but I find the casting of an American in the part inexplicable. It's not like McKean is that famous an American that he'd draw in American viewers. Someone like Bill Paterson, who is relatively memorable in his few scenes as Tadfield Town Watcher R.P. Tyler, seems like he would have been better as Shadwell.

Nobody else was miscast: they just didn't have much to do and/or had the presence to go up against Sheen and Tennant. Some actors like Paerson and Dennehy... almost. Again, maybe that's how the novel went. But I'm looking at the show as what was on-screen: not how well or poorly it adapted the novel, or the novel itself.

tnt posted 16 days ago

The series was as good as I've hoped it to be. Well done keeping the light tone of the book, a bit simplified maybe, but ain't all adaptations are? Sheen / Tennant duo is brilliant, and other lesser roles are well cast and played. Definitely was worth watching!

Jan posted 17 days ago

I really enjoyed this show. Went in not knowing anything about it other than David Tennant was in it.

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