Amazon’s six-part adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens is everything you’d want it to be, whether you’ve read the novel or not.
The story of an angel and a demon teaming up to stop the young Antichrist from bringing about Armageddon is a funny, fast-moving, exciting morality tale about the dangers of absolutism. It’s also something you might not expect it to be though – an incredibly moving story of two supernatural beings’ and their unlikely friendship that speaks to the best of what it means to be human.
At the heart of the story, and the driving force for why Good Omens is consistently entertaining and will likely prove so re-watchable, are Michael Sheen’s angel Aziraphale and David Tennant’s demon Crowley. Each has been Heaven and Hell’s representatives on Earth since Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, and they’ve spent 6,000 years working against, around, and sometimes with one another as each has become more “native,” growing more and more fond of the best (and worst) mankind has to offer.
Tennant steals every scene he is in, as his Crowley feels like it crawled straight from the page to the screen in one of the most perfect character adaptations you’ll ever see. Whether he’s saying something clever or poignant, smooth-talking a fellow agent of Hell to avoid getting in trouble, or merely walking, he fully embodies a charming, not-so-bad demon who is having way too much fun on Earth.
But Sheen is his equal as Aziraphale. His ever-worried angel might not be as much fun to play, but his role might also be more challenging. He keeps his angel likable even as he’s constantly weighed down by the annoying desire to be wholly good. The show’s two leads are so fantastic you might sometimes find yourself wondering when you can rejoin them, but that speaks to their performances and not the rest of the wonderful cast.
The great Michael McKean is, no surprise, hilarious as the curmudgeonly Sergeant Witchfinder Shadwell, and Miranda Richardson is genuinely delightful as his kind neighbor, “the Jezebel” Madam Tracy. Adria Arjona, who plays Anathema Device, the descendant of Agnes Nutter, a witch wrote the only accurate book of prophesies in history, doesn’t get to be funny often. However, Arjona’s nuanced performance does keep the action of the story moving along while also adding some very poignant elements to the idea of what it means to live your own life. Jake Whitehall’s lovable loser Newt Pulsifer, whose ultimate role in the show is among the series most satisfying, might be the biggest surprise though, as he manages to be sincerely delightful and overly hilarious without ever seeming like he’s trying to be either.
Our biggest complaint is we didn’t get to spend more time with them, or with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse who show up for the end of the world. But the biggest issue is that the show doesn’t devote more time to the Antichrist himself, Adam Young. His transformation from child into the Devourer of Worlds is (duh) a big deal, as are his group of fellow pre-teen friends, a hilarious group known as The Them. They are integral to both his story and the bigger ideas Good Omens is dealing with. The weight of Adam’s decisions carry the literal fate of the entire world, and the major influence his friends play in his life, as well his love for his home town and parents, would have benefited from a deeper exploration.
It’s certainly not a fatal flaw, and it might be one more apparent to book readers than newcomers to the story, but it might have been worth risking some of the mid-season pace (the show constantly picks up steam on the way to the end of the world) to take some more time with The Them. Good Omens could have easily been an eight-part series, and if it had it would probably be even funnier and perhaps even more touching, at least when it came to Adam’s story.
The other major cuts from the novel include many of the smaller, funnier, less important moments from the book. This is a far more faithful adaptation than most, which is no surprise since Neil Gaiman himself wrote each episode and served as showrunner, but you’re either going to miss the other Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse or will need to read the novel to find out why book readers are so disappointed they weren’t included. In the end, though, sacrificing some of the comedy doesn’t hurt the show, because while Good Omens is still incredibly entertaining from start to finish, it proves to be a moving tale that is both timely and timeless. It’s a fantastic and fun story about friendship, being a good person, and what it means to enjoy life, and it does that while managing to seamlessly weave together multiple plot lines into a coherent and satisfying conclusion.
The series is far more direct than the book with its themes about the similarities/inherent perils of ultimate bad and ultimate good (in large part thanks to a superb Jon Hamm as the eager-for-war Archangel Gabriel, representative of a Heaven that isn’t very different from Hell), and how life is only meaningful (and fun) because of both. But that directness works on a TV series in a way that would feel too heavy-handed on the page.
Life on Earth is messy, it doesn’t make sense, and it’s not always clear what the right or wrong thing to do is. But even if the Apocalypse is here, it’s not so bad if you have someone to share it with. Or in the case of two old friends, an angel and a demon who have found a common reason to prevent it – each other.