“The whole business with the fossilized dinosaur skeletons was a joke that paleantologists haven’t seen yet,” intones the voice of god, realized wryly by Frances McDormand, “This proves two things: Firstly, God does not play dice with the universe- I play an ineffable game of my own devising. For everyone else, it’s like playing poker in a pitch dark room, for infinite stakes, with a dealer who won’t tell you the rules and smiles all the time.”
That pretty much sums up the entirety of Good Omens, a charming, bordering on brilliant adaptation of the novel of the same name by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. The series might amble on a bit at times, but it does an amazingly good job of preserving the tone, humor, and wit of the novel. And that is entirely by design, as Gaiman himself wrote the entire production, and brought it to life through his own ineffable plan.
The first episode starts with God talking a bit about the history of life on earth, what we have deduced wrong, and what we have right, before panning down to the Garden of Eden, where Eve (Schelaine Bennett) has just taken a bite out of the apple. The biblical first couple is exiled, as we know, but the angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) gifts them his divinely flaming sword to help them navigate the wilds.
Aziraphale is joined on the wall around Eden by Crowley (David Tennant), the demon who tempted Eve while in his serpent form. Crowley and the angel debate the exile of Adam and Eve from the Garden, with Crowley arguing that the sentence was perhaps too harsh. This begins a six thousand year old alliance between the two, which neither one wants to admit is a very strong friendship.
Flash forward to “11 years ago”, and Crowley is entrusted with the Antichrist in a bassinet, which he is to switch with the baby of the American Ambassador to England (Nick Offerman). The Ambassador’s wife has been routed to a convent run by the Chattering Order of St. Beryl (a sect of Satanic Nuns). The plan is to switch the son of Satan with the Ambassador’s baby, ensuring that the Antichrist will be raised in setting that will allow him access to global mayhem as he matures.
The switch is bungled, though, with one of the nuns taking the Antichrist to another room, and making the switch with the wrong couple’s baby. So, the Antichrist ends up being raised in an idyllic, ambling country village, while a perfectly normal child is brought up under the pretense of bringing about the end of days.
Crowley and Aziraphale devise a plan by which they can each keep an eye on the Ambassador’s son, Warlock, with Crowley instructing the child on the art of world domination, while Aziraphale instructs on the merits of mercy and compassion.
Meanwhile, the real Antichrist, Adam, grows up playing with his friends in the woods, making up fun games, and being, for all intents, a perfectly normal kid who really wants a dog for his birthday.
Good Omens carries its source material on its sleeve effortlessly, and I can’t think of two people who could have been more perfect as Aziraphale and Crowley. Tennant and Sheen have a wonderfully affectionate chemistry with each other, and their banter together is wonderful to watch. There is an extended scene where the two trade off instructing the “Antichrist”, with Aziraphale disguised as the gardener and Crowley as the nanny, and it’s a blast- especially Crowley’s lullaby.
Sheen plays Aziraphale straight and unflappable, with Tennant playing Crowley as a strutting, preening peacock, almost like Mick Jagger trying on his best Beyonce, but with serpent’s eyes.
The rest of the cast of Good Omens is wonderfully put together, with Jon Hamm bringing his absolute Jon Hammness to his Archangel Gabriel, and a group of child actors that bring their characters together brilliantly, led by Sam Taylor Buck as the young Antichrist. I was a little worried when the first kid introduced struggled with some lines, but the rest of the children on Good Omens are fantastic.
Later episodes introduce Michael McKean as Witchunter Shadwell; Miranda Richardson as his scheming temptress, Madame Tracy; and Adria Arjona as Anathema Device.
There is a much larger group of players that are introduced in subsequent episodes, which I will cover in later reviews.
Overall, Good Omens is a lot of fun to watch, with a clever, occasionally indulgent script that does meander from time to time, but that’s exactly how Pratchett wrote, so it’s a treat to see that captured so well in Gaiman’s script. Taking a six episode series to tell the story properly was the right choice, since there’s a lot of humor that probably would have been scuttled had this been adapted for cinemas.
My only real reservations come with the overall look of the show, which feels like a moderate to high budget BBC production in terms of scale and visual effects. I will admit right here and now that my impressions are based off of watching the show on my laptop via a screener provided by Amazon, so I will reassess how the show looks when it hits Prime Video on May 31st.
If you’re a fan of the book that this series is based off of, you’re in for a real treat. This isn’t a slavish, word for word interpretation of the novel, but a fun, often fantastic romp through the end of the world.
It’s also one of the sweetest love stories I’ve seen in a long time. Not romantic love (necessarily), but the affection two beings can share for each other over a lifetime spent together.
Oh, if you’re a Queen fan, get ready to love every scene with Crowley in it. That’s a personal soundtrack I can get behind.