Good Omens, the televised comedy from the novel by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, nails the Apocalypse without it feeling like Armageddon.
The show is about the angel Aziraphale, played by Michael Sheen and the demon Crowley, played by former Doctor Who, David Tennant. Having known each other since the dawn of creation, the angel and demon are a sort of celestial odd couple. Sheen’s Aziraphale is foppish, kind and trusting to a fault, yet for all his naivete, is wholesome and charming. Tennant’s Crowley is the too-cool-for-school demon, dressed in stylish clothes and is charming, despite his ne’er-do-well nature. The duo does not want the world to end, as they enjoy Earth and its pleasures.
Good Omens deftly navigates the realms of absurdist comedy to poignant relationship exploration without being saccharine or ridiculous. I read the novel nearly 15 years ago, but I don’t remember how precisely the series followed the book, but it didn’t matter. Neil Gaiman wrote the television scripts and you can feel the tone of the novel within the whimsical nature of the series. Unfortunately, co-author Terry Pratchett passed away four years prior to the series being released.
The series really does the novel justice, reigning in the series to six one-hour length episodes. Considering the BBC radio drama comes in at four hours and 19 minutes and the audiobook at 12-and-a-half hours, Amazon found the sweet spot to deliver the supernatural comedy without dragging out the plot to fill out additional episodes, just to hit some arbitrary number. I felt that the story was told and everything wrapped up nicely by the end of the series. It was not too long, not too short, but it felt just right.
This is much different from Gaiman’s other televised novel, American Gods. That series from Starz, currently airing two seasons and already having two showrunners, seems like it is being dragged out, elevating offhand characters from the novel to near starring roles, adding additional scenes that while entertaining, feel tacked on. Good Omens knows its place and plays to its strengths, all the while sticking the landing.
While the subject matter is hilarious, the acting elevates the show. Sheen is fantastic, from his blubbering delivery to his ridiculous facial expressions. And Tennant radiates oily slick, evil coolness every scene he gets. Each cast member shines, from the child playing the Antichrist (Sam Taylor Buck) to Witch Hunter Sgt. Shadwell (Michael McKean). It has an all-star cast, too, with Jon Hamm as the smug jerk Archangel Gabriel and Frances McDormand as the narrator/God.
It’s also nice to see Amazon Prime didn’t cheap out on the special effects. The end of the world needs big scenes, more to go out with a bang and not with a whimper, and the effects were great. There is a great deal of supernatural scenes, some on screen for just moments, but they are done so well and with such grandeur they looked amazing and really emphasized the scope of this Armageddon.
Good Omens finally airs a novel in a television series format and does it succinctly, and with enough of a budget for quality actors and effects, yet manages to be enjoyable from beginning to end. Future fantasy and science-fiction novel television adaptations should take notes on how to do it right from Good Omens and learn from other series’ mistakes. I’m looking at you, Game of Thrones.