Binge or Purge?: Good Omens.
Amazon Studio’s adaptation of Good Omens is both wicked and divine, and a ton of fun.
Director Douglas Mackinnon and writer Neil Gaiman pulled off quite a feat: take a book I found to be mostly a slog to get through and make it instantly engaging as a TV show. As so much of my enjoyment of the show came from how much better it was than the source material, I’m going to have to change my format. Instead of taking the first three episodes apart, I’m just going to focus on the first and last episodes (without spoilers.) Since these were the parts of the book I liked least, I was thrilled to find them to be the parts of the show I liked best. Let’s dive in.
Good Omens (2019).
According to the always accurate prophecies of Agnes Nutter (witch), the world will be ending on a Saturday 11 years hence. To get Armageddon rolling, a hedonistic demon named Crowley (David Tennant) is tasked with swapping a high-powered diplomat’s new baby with the anti-Christ. He’s not exactly enthusiastic about it: as Hell’s representative on Earth, he’s gotten rather fond of the world existing. He’s also become friends with a bookish angel name Aziraphale (Michael Sheen), who is Heaven’s representative. The pair hatch a plot to keep the anti-Christ from being too evil, in hopes that the end of the world will be postponed indefinitely.
Episode 1: In the Beginning.
A delightful recap from God (Frances McDormand) tells about the fall of man, which sets in motion the ineffable plan requiring Armageddon. We meet our two supernatural protagonists (Crowley as the tempting serpent and Aziraphale as the gate warden of Eden) and see them get attached to God’s creation, especially his two new creatures – humanity. From there, we flash forward to the sticky situation of swapping the son of Satan into a British hospital, and then the following ten years of both trying to dupe their bosses by surreptitiously and deliberately undermining each other’s education of the boy. Unfortunately, the swap at the hospital was too clever…they realize that the boy their tending may not be the anti-Christ after all!
Good Omens demolished my reservations right off the bat. Frances McDormand perfectly captures the snarky tone of the novel in a way that is humorous instead of pretentious. The art style of the fall is gorgeous and quirky enough to match (or exceed) the imagery of the book. The cherry on top comes from Tennant and Sheen who make Crowley and Aziraphale their own. I was utterly delighted with every interaction between the two. Instead of being faux-edgy, Tennant’s Crowley has the right amount of cocksure arrogance and sly charm. Sheen converts the prissy Aziraphale into a cheerful and innocent partner/foil for Crowley. I felt Crowley dominated the book, and was a bit insufferable. Sheen and Tennant feel on equal terms, and better yet feel like a real team. Dare I say, a real couple. From the start, I could watch whatever mischief they get up to.
Episode 6: The Very Last Day of the Rest of Their Lives.
As the prophecies start stacking up fast and furious, all of the players arrive in the little town of Tadfield for the big show. Some want to stop the Apocalypse. Some want to egg it on. Others just can’t seem to help themselves or get out of the way!
After watching Good Omens pretty consistently breathe fresh life into the book through clever choices, I held my breath for the ending. I thought the book forced things; the way many characters wound up didn’t feel earned. Once again, no worries. Gaiman introduces some new content to smooth out the wrinkles, and the cast has been diligently building their characters so that when we get to the finish line, everyone is where they feel like they should be. There’s also a denouement in the show that was not in the book, sending the whole production off with an elegant flourish.
The first and last episode feature the biggest set pieces of the show, and the CG and cinematography pay it off. Good Omens engages you visually all the way through, and it doesn’t drop the ball when it comes time to deliver the goods.
Binge or Purge?
I loved Amazon’s Good Omens. The book had some great ideas, but struggled with tone and consistent characterization (not surprising as two authors with very different styles were handing the story back and forth.) I tend to like Gaiman’s ideas but dislike his execution. The whole thing came together this time, and a superb cast really brought the story to life. Tennant and Sheen were pitch perfect, and side characters like John Hamm‘s archangel and Frances McDormand’s God were delightful additions. Heck, Michael McKean (Clue) managed to turn my least favorite character of the novel into a funny and interesting character, so there wasn’t a bad performance all the way around.
Visually, their is a ton going on. The settings and costuming are great. The use of CG is well done, and the mixed media scenes (made to look like paper cut-outs) was a stand out visual choice. The series doesn’t overstay its welcome, and embroiders the book just enough to fill in places that may have been under served. If you have a liking for the book or Gaiman’s other properties, you’ll be well at home here. If you didn’t quite get grabbed by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s novel, there’s still a ton to love here. Binge.