For fans of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, this has been a long road. They’ve been waiting for an adaptation of Good Omens, standing by through false start after false start, almost as long and as fervently as Christian evangelicals have been waiting for the actual apocalypse. And now it’s finally here.
The Good Omens television series, that is. Not the end times.
It’s a tale (literally) as old as time: two misfits are forced by necessity to team up and track down the Antichrist, preventing a war between angels and demons that will bring an end to, well, everything. You know, that old chestnut.
Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and Crowley (David Tennant) are an angel and a demon who have been stationed on Earth since the very beginning. In fact, Crowley was the original tempter of Eve, and Aziraphale was the angel in charge of guarding the eastern gate of Eden after the two newly enlightened humans were banished (aided by a flaming sword, which he has since, ahem, misplaced). So by the late twentieth century, it’s fair to say that Crowley and Aziraphale have, for lack of a better word, gone native.
They certainly have more in common with one another than they do their distant, supernatural overlords, and have come to appreciate the quaint little customs of humanity. Crowley loves his vintage car as though it were an actual person, Aziraphale has a charming bookshop with an antiquarian collection he has no intention on actually selling to anyone. Neither is in any hurry to see it all come to an end. But the prospect of an apocalypse becomes terrifyingly real when Crowley is tasked with delivering the son of Satan to a human family, thus kickstarting armageddon. So the angel and the demon execute the ultimate reach across the aisle and form a pact to do everything in their power to avert the apocalypse.
Despite the high states of Good Omens, it’s really rather a funny story. The adaptation’s greatest success is that it preserves the tone of the novel both through Sheen and Tennant’s pitch-perfect performances, as well as the clever decision to have Frances McDormand narrate as God herself. This allows the gorgeously eccentric prose of the novel to shine through. (And of course, Frances McDormand is God, so the casting makes sense.)
Together, David Tennant and Michael Sheen are a formidable duo with off-the-charts chemistry. They immediately establish a casual rapport that belies the depth of feeling they have for one another, and how much they’ve come to rely upon each other over the years. Frankly, it’s worth asking the question: is there enough Aziraphale/Crowley action in the series? To my mind, there is not.
In fact, although the idea of Jon Hamm as Gabriel is an inspired one, it perhaps might have been better if the subplot with the senior angels and demons had been dialled back a bit. The point of Aziraphale and Crowley’s friendship is that they both feel disconnected from their respective superiors. What reason do they have to build a relationship with one another if they’re in more or less constant contact with the home office, as it were? Part of what makes Good Omens so enjoyable is a certain quaintness that comes from grounding the action squarely on Earth, in Tadsfield. Every time they go on a jaunt off to heaven or hell, it loses a little bit of that charm.
While Tennant and Sheen are undoubtedly the MVPs, there’s quite a bit for the rest of the large ensemble cast to do, although some are utilized better than others. Jack Whitehall is surprisingly likeable as Witchfinder Newton Pulsifer, who has identified a witch (Anathema Device, descendant of the prophet Agnes Nutter) in Tadsfield, but accidentally falls in love with her. The gang of children led by Adam the Antichrist have solid Stand By Me vibes, and Adam himself (Sam Taylor Buck) does an excellent job of showcasing the conflict between his megalomaniacal tendencies and his genuine desire to be a good person. On the other hand, the four horsemen of the apocalypse are seriously underutilized, and for such iconic characters, it’s hard to ignore the feeling that their time is spent standing around not really doing much of anything.
Look, it’s not perfect. But it is entirely charming, and does an excellent job of capturing the spirit, the humor, and the magic of the novel that has won so many hearts over the years. After all this time, it’s exactly the sort of faithful adaptation that the fans deserve.