Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s collaboration is brought to the small screen.
In the beginning, God (Frances McDormand) created the heavens and the Earth. This is generally regarded as a bad move. God then created people, which is just a giant mistake, because have you met people? Although, it did give us Douglas Adams, so maybe that’s a push. Well, in any case, people quickly got kicked out of paradise due to being tempted by a demon in the form of a snake. That demon, named Crowley (David Tennant), was sent to Earth by the forces of Hell to stir up trouble. Meanwhile, his counterpart, the angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen), who was supposed to guard the gates of Eden, is stuck on Earth opposing Crowley. Over the millennia, the two have grown fonder of Earth, and of each other, than they are of either Heaven or Hell. However, it turns out that the apocalypse is drawing nigh, so the two are determined to work together to stop the antichrist (Adam Taylor Young) from accidentally ending the world, along the way meeting one of the last witchfinders (Jack Whitehall) and a witch (Adria Arjona) following a series of prophecies by her own great-great-great-grandmother (Josie Lawrence).
I always compared Good Omens to the song “Under Pressure.” It’s thoroughly enjoyable, to be sure, and the product of a collaboration between two absolutely brilliant minds, but it’s not the best product of either of the authors. That said, it’s still a really fun book and has a lot of amazing character moments that clearly arise by having the creations of two very different writing styles interacting. One thing that consistently works about the book are all of the fun intercalary passages depicting the strange things happening as the world approaches the end times and all of the fun prophecies put forth by Agnes Nutter.
This TV show is a solid adaptation of the material, but the material is difficult to adapt. The beauty of much of the writing of Good Omens is the almost lyrical language that the two authors carry into the narrative and the multitude of fun, well-developed characters. Even with the huge amount of narration in this series, it’s still tough to get the humor to the screen without literally reading the entire thing. The series manages to do this well enough, mostly through having a lot of clever cuts and framing devices for different scenes. The fact that most of the characters are color coded and heavily distinctly costumed also helps to elaborate on their backstories without having to dwell on them. I particularly love what they did with the Antichrist’s friends, coloring them as the horsemen of the apocalypse. The thing is, though, they still can’t quite visually represent the same level of quirky humor and the endearing descriptions that are found in the novel. The show is definitely cute and funny, but only a handful of the scenes have any real staying power and only a few of the jokes really showcase the strengths of the source material.
There are a few highlights, though. First, Tennant and Sheen are just freaking magical in their scenes together. They really manage to convey “best frenemies” perfectly, with each of them clearly caring deeply for the other while making a show that they don’t. It’s pretty much summarized by a scene in the first episode where Aziraphale fiercely says “Get thee behind me, foul fiend,” before politely inviting him to enter the building, saying “after you.” One of the best sequences in the series is a depiction of their history from Egypt through the French Revolution.
Another highlight is that some of the characters are really well designed, particularly the demons. Almost all of the demons who are associated with flies are found with some type of insectivore living on their person, which is just funny. The angels are similarly depicted as being fussy and obsessed with order, particularly Gabriel (Jon Hamm), who loves human suits.
The side-stories aren’t quite as good visually as they were when being described, mostly because a lot of them were just designed to be quick jokes that just colored the world, whereas the TV format kind of forces a little more time on them just to justify the expense of setting up the scene.
Overall, it’s not the best show on TV, but it is definitely a pretty solid one. It’s fun and that’s about all it needed to be. I’d say give it a try if you have the time.
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