Good Omens is one of those classics that people who enjoy fantasy novels have to own. Written by Sir Terry Pratchett (The Discworld series) and Neil Gaiman (American Gods, Sandman), Good Omens is a witty, thought-provoking look at Armageddon.
You might think that a story about the end of the world wouldn't be fun or optimistic, but at its heart, Good Omens is a story about love. Whether our two leads, Crowley and Aziraphale, want to admit it or not, they love each other and the world they have spent so long living in. Is it romantic love, platonic love, or something else? I don't think it really matters. All that matters is their love for each other makes them try their best, and that is a wonderful theme to have at the core of your show about the darkest subject matter imaginable.
As an adaptation, Good Omens has a lot to live up to. The book is beloved by fans not just because it's funny — it is — or because it's well written — it really is — but because of the obvious friendship between the main characters that mirrors the friendship the two authors have. Pratchett and Gaiman were great friends when they were writing the book and Gaiman mentioned that the adaptation of Good Omens was the last thing they spoke about before Sir Terry passed away from Alzheimer's in 2015.
Good Omens goes out of its way to make it feel like the book has come to life.
I came into Good Omens with trepidation. While I have every faith in Gaiman's ability to write, I was worried that Sir Terry's voice would be lost now that he is no longer here to be a part of it. I shouldn't have worried though, as it's clear Mr. Gaiman knew exactly how to get his friend's voice across to the world. Pratchett's witty, optimistic, absurd, unique voice is in every scene and each lovingly worded phrase, and it makes me extremely happy to see.
The overall tone of the books is kept throughout the show. From the quirky open titles to the unique color schemes, Good Omens goes out of its way to make it feel like the book has come to life in front of you. Even the transitions are in keeping with the tongue-in-cheek way the story deals with the Apocolypse. While watching the show you will see a lot of chirpy signposts letting you know how close you are to destruction. It's cute and makes me smile every time they pop up. The theme of the book, and the irreverence with which it is told, is prevalent throughout the series and turns what could be a poor drama into a divine comedy.
Because the focus of the books is always on the main two characters — yes, the Antichrist is important but not the focus — this adaptation needed a particular set of acting chops to really get it right. Crowley and Aziraphale have so many layers that it should have been hard to find actors who could play so many distinct tones. Turns out they nailed it straight away.
Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and Crowley (David Tennant) are played almost perfectly. Tennant has that fine balance of comedic timing, over-the-top swagger, and gravitas needed to be a mostly carefree demon. Even when there is no dialogue Crowley exudes confidence and charisma. You can see it in his strutting walk and the half-smile behind his dark glasses.
The theme of the book, and the irreverence with which it is told, is prevalent throughout the series and turns what could be a poor drama into a divine comedy.
Behind it all, you still see a person who has a deep affection for the Angel who should be his biggest enemy and for the humans who scurry about on Earth. Sometimes he seems like your Dad when he's a little too busy to deal with your shenanigans but is gruffly kind about it. Other times he is a vengeful force of darkness. It takes a really special actor to get it all right and Tennant does it with ease.
Michael Sheen — one of my favorite actors — plays the timid Aziraphale so well it's like he stepped out of the page of the book, into my mind, then out of my eyeballs onto the screen. Having watched him play Aziraphale, I can't imagine who else could have done it. Aziraphale is an angel, yes, but his moral code doesn't always align with what the other Angels want. There is steel in him, a resolve to do the right thing, and Sheen doesn't even have to speak — just tilt his head or tighten his jaw. It really is a masterclass.
What's more, the two work well together. Not only do we get the sense that Crowley and Aziraphale are working towards a common goal, but that they understand the complexities of the morally gray good vs. evil world that Pratchett and Gaiman built. They're an angel and a demon, sure, but they're also in a relationship so strong that it might transcend mass destruction.
The quality doesn't stop at just the leads. Miranda Richardson as Madame Tracy is sublime and Jon Hamm as Gabriel dominates every scene he's in. All of the side characters play their roles wonderfully, including some wonderful voice-over work from Brian Cox as Death and a quick cameo from Benedict Cumberbatch. The assorted angel and demons are expertly played, no matter how large or small their part. It was a joy to watch them.
It's like Aziraphale stepped out of the page of the book, into my mind, then out of my eyeballs onto the screen.
The witch hunters and witches in the story are good, but can't live up to the standards set by Tennant and Sheen. Adria Arjona (Anathema Device) and Jack Whitehall (Newton Pulcifer) have great chemistry together but when separate their performances fall flat. They do the job well enough to make me believe in them as characters, but not well enough for me to be invested in them.
I want to take a moment to mention the younger members of the cast. It's always difficult for children to act well in adult situations but Sam Taylor Buck, who plays Adam "the Antichrist" Young, and his three young friends manage it really well. Pepper, played by newcomer Amma Ris, is the young girl in the child party and is especially good, with a huge range of emotion playing across her face at all the right moments.
I have loved watching Good Omens far more than I thought possible. It feels like a warm hug from your best friend after a crappy day. The obvious love between the main characters drives the entire show, but the side plot concerning the Antichrist is just as developed, with nuanced characters and drama weaving through comedy like a tapestry.
I've been an avid Pratchett fan for as long as I could hold a book, and watching Good Omens makes me want to read everything he's ever written all over again, and then wish they were all TV shows like this one.
In fact, I'm off to read some of my favorites right now.
If you liked Good Omens
If this is your first foray into Gaiman or Pratchett and you found you really liked it, you should check out some of their other work.
Good Omens paperback ($8 at Amazon)
Once you have watched the TV show try reading the book. You will have a visual reference to draw on and the book expands on parts of the story the TV show couldn't quite get to.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane ($8 at Amazon)
While Good Omens is a humorous romp through the apocalypse, Neil Gaiman does have a more serious side. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a deep, serious book that is written by a master. It oozes skill in every page and left me breathless.
Witches Abroad ($8 at Amazon)
If you loved the humor and the witches in Good Omens try Witches Abroad. Sir Terry weaves a tale that makes you laugh and think all at the same time.
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