GOOD OMENS has been a Biblically long time coming. Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman seemed to have given up after years of false starts at adapting their 1990 fantasy novel but Pratchett’s terminal illness and Gaiman’s promise to him finally got the project off the ground. Was it worth the wait? As the tenth incarnation of a certain Time Lord might say, “Ohh yes!”.
For the thousands of years since God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and demon Crowley (David Tennant) have been living among mankind, and have become rather accustomed to their creature comforts. That all changes when their superiors in Heaven and Hell announce the end is nigh and the Antichrist will soon be brought forth to do what Antichrists do. But not even the end of the world is simple when the forces of good and evil make one hell of a cockup…
Gaiman adapts his own co-authored work almost to the letter here. All the novel’s witty, mischievous and often silly jokes at the expense of the subjects of religion (Divine Plan/ineffability), pedantry (“Angels aren’t occult, we’re ethereal”) and human nature (anything involving Queen or the M25) are present and correct. There are of course revisions and expansions as well, the strongest of which is seen in the third episode, which has a 25 minute pre-title sequence of new material that sees Crowley and Aziraphale entertainingly bumping into each other at various points throughout human history.
Sheen and Tennant aren’t exactly how I imagined Aziraphale and Crowley (also for the record I’ve also been pronouncing Crowley wrong since I read the book), but from their first scene grumbling on top of the Garden of Eden’s perimeter wall all doubts melted away. They are an obscenely good pairing, playfully ripping into each others’ increasingly human quirks and nudging each other to and fro on the moral line despite seemingly the most content inhabiting and hanging out in the comfy grey area in the middle. The cast is bolstered by John Hamm as a sneering blowhard Archangel Gabriel, Michael McKean as a crusty and backwards Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell and Adria Arjona as frustrated modern witch Anathema Device, whose ancestor predicted this whole end of the world thing. Also look out for fun cameos from the League of Gentlemen and Just A Minute’s own Nicholas Parsons (just lost non-British readers there).
The title sequence (by Peter Anderson) with marionette versions of Aziraphale and Crowley walking through an animated version of human history as civilisation rises, falls and heads towards oblivion and the events of the show on a heavenly travelator is something truly special. I’d love a some art in exactly this style to hang on my wall.
Now, the nitpicks. I think Brian Cox was miscast as the voice of Death. Something about his delivery didn’t gel, I think because he comes across as angry and wrathful rather than pragmatic and inevitable. I like the idea of Heaven and Hell appearing as a chic office space and a mouldy tube station respectively, though I wanted something a bit more creative in the designs of the angels and demons in their true forms than suits and sparkles for the divine and suits and sores for the damned.
You could quibble at the effects budget as well, but to be honest Good Omens is a very British thing and wobbly CGI is what we do on TV (have you ever watched DOCTOR WHO?). It’s part of the charm.
It’s a shame, but it’s right that we’ll never get a sequel book or series. A sequel is set up in both versions by the emergence of a second manuscript of prophesies which Anathema chooses not to read in the book, and burns on screen. It’s likely why after we get to the novel’s ending the TV show has Aziraphale and Crowley get called to answer for their perceived crimes, before they both of course wriggle out of any real punishment. That’s the matter closed, and this story ended definitively by Neil out of respect for Terry. I don’t think it ever really hit me before how closely Aziraphale and Crowley’s friendship echoes Pratchett and Gaiman’s, how the characters’ personalities are so clearly based on them and how they all love good sushi (though I do remember seemingly subconsciously giving Aziraphale a Pratchett-esque lisp in my head as I read the book).
Good Omens is not a perfect adaptation, but it’s a Very Nice and Accurate one. It’s not likely to convert those not already enamoured with Pratchett and Gaiman’s distinctive shared voice, but it’s a treat for fans, a fitting tribute to Pratchett and an entertaining and quite scarily relevant show in its own right. What better time is there for a story about heading to oblivion all because of an ill-defined, ineffable plan when this is actually happening all over the planet? SSP