Neil Gaiman has written the Amazon Prime miniseries adaptation of his and the late Terry Pratchett’s novel, “Good Omens”, and the result is simply wicked. Imagine if the Monty Python troupe had adapted Richard Donner’s “The Omen” by way of Mark Twain’s “Letters From The Earth” with just a pinch of “Stranger Things” thrown in for good measure. Stir it up, serve, and enjoy.
The End Of The World As We Know It.
“Good Omens” is a six-part tale of Armageddon that is, at its core, a millennia-spanning friendship between between two diametrically opposed beings; straight-laced angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and demon Crowley (a swaggering David Tennant, having a deliciously good time). We see their friendship form around the time of Genesis in the Garden of Eden, as each tempt and aid Adam & Eve in their own way (Crowley was the serpent, by the way…). Aziraphale gives the fleeing Adam his personal flaming sword to protect the pregnant Eve; an act of intervention which mystifies his superiors in the ‘front office’, who are still wondering where the sword went into the present day. It’s implied that the well-meaning Aziraphale might’ve unwittingly created humankind’s obsession with weaponry…
Over their discrete, sometimes playful meddling with humanity, Aziraphale and Crowley have ‘gone native’, growing to appreciate material delights such as books, good food, wine and music (Crowley is particularly fond of “Queen,” and his 1926 Bentley). The preternatural pair have also kept their beloved Earth in an uneasy balance between good and evil, developing a grudging-but-close friendship along the way. We see the pair carrying on throughout human history, with stops at the Crucifixion of Jesus, Ancient Rome, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, etc.
The current story begins 11 years ago from the present in Great Britain, with the birth of the Antichrist, who is delivered by Crowley to the sisters of a Satanic Cult posing as nuns in a religious hospital. The baby Antichrist is supposed to be swapped with the newborn of the US ambassador (Nick Offenhouse), as in Richard Donner’s “The Omen,” but is mistakenly given to a sweet-natured, bumbling couple from the nearby village of Lower Tadfield. The Antichrist grows up to be a typical 11 year old boy named “Adam Young” (Sam Taylor Buck), a good lad who just wants to play games with his bicycling mates; the ardently feminist Pepper (Amma Ris), budding environmentalist Brian (Ilan Galkoff) and the ever-curious Wensleydale (Alfie Taylor). Like the middle-schoolers of “Stranger Things”, these kids form a makeshift army against the forces of darkness.
When Aziraphale and Crowley’s ‘front offices’ discover the location of the true Antichrist, they resume God’s ‘great but ineffable’ plan for the battle at Armageddon; the final decisive war between good and evil which will end the world as we know it, but also assure victory for Heaven. Heaven is micromanaged by pompous-ass angel Gabriel (Jon Hamm) and the slyly backhanded angel Michael (Doon Mackichan). Hell is represented by Belzebub (a decayed fly-swarmed Anna Maxwell Martin) and the vindictive, creature-adorned foot soldier demons Hastur (Ned Dennehy) and Ligur (Ariyon Bikare).
Trouble is, Aziraphale and Crowley don’t want to bring about the end of the world they’ve both come to love, so together they form a nascent resistance movement against the wills of their masters. This movement enlists the aid of a self-important ‘witch hunter sergeant’ named Shadwell (“Better Call Saul” veteran Michael McKean) and his newly appointed deputy, Private Newton Pulsifer (Jack Whitehall).
Pulsifer is a direct descendant of a 17th century witch-hunter who burned prophetess Agnes Nutter (Josie Lawrence) at the stake, though Nutter’s death assured her accuser’s own destruction, as she packed her body with gunpowder before her immolation (truly going out with a bang). Nutter was the ancestor of a young, modern-day American witch with the unfortunate name of Anathema Device (Adria Arjona). Anathema comes to England and rents Nutter’s renovated cottage in an effort to stop the end of the world, as foretold in Nutter’s comically specific yet uncanny prophecies.
Newton and Anathema, departing from their ancestral antagonisms, soon become an item… as do the ridiculously repressed Sgt. Shadwell and his Bohemian spirit medium landlady, Madame Tracy (Miranda Richardson). The flourishing couplings represent the melting barriers between puritanism and paganism… recurrent echoes of the series’ primary friendship between Aziraphale and Crowley.
The battle to avert Armageddon comes to a climax in a nearly-abandoned US Air Base. The four motorcycling ‘horsemen of the apocalypse’, Death (voiced by Brian Cox), Famine (Yusuf Gatewood), War (Mireille Enos) and Pollution (Lourdes Faberes), converge on the base. The four are soon confronted by Adam’s gang, Pulsifer, Anathema, Shadwell, an inconveniently discorporated Aziraphale (inhabiting medium Tracy’s body for the time being) and a dramatic arrival by Crowley… in his flaming Bentley. Armageddon is averted both by Pulsifer’s incompetence with computers as well as a loophole in the wording of God’s ‘ineffable’ plan for Armageddon.
Antichrist Adam also makes a conscious choice between being the son of Satan and being the son of his bumbling, sweet-natured adoptive parents. Another recurrent theme of the miniseries is the value of nurture over nature. One can make conscious choice for goodness, even if they’re born evil (the examples of both Adam and Crowley).
In his final act before permanently reverting to mortal form, Adam reboots the entire world to its previous state before the end times begin to undo the fabric of reality. Balance is restored. The world is saved…for now. The ‘antichrist’ saved the world, with a little help from his friends.
Angel Aziraphale and Demon Crowley have to eventually atone for their disobedience to their front offices, but avoid mutual oblivion by switching bodies, thus negating both Crowley’s fate of being disintegrated in holy water and Aziraphale’s fate of damning flames. We see the two meeting for dinner at a posh restaurant, as their eternal odd coupling continues… until the front offices decide to try to end the world once again.
There is enough star power in this miniseries to fuel six movies, let alone six hour-long episodes. Michael Sheen is the lovably bumbling angel Aziraphael, while David Tennant appears to be having the time of his life as the wild-haired, serpent-eyed demon Crowley. He walks with a swaggering swish reminiscent of a half-crocked ‘70s glam rocker taking to the stage. This was a role that David Tennant was born to play (as much as the Doctor), and he is a delight every second he is onscreen. The pairing of Sheen and Tennant creates chemistry so palpable it radiates off of the screen like the flames of Hades.
The rest of the primary cast are both perfectly cast and utterly hilarious. “Mad Men” vet Jon Hamm plays the Mitt Romney-esque angel Gabriel as a delightfully obtuse war monger whose lack of empathy says a lot about the current state of modern ‘godliness.’ Fellow American actor Michael McKean is also ideally cast as the comically repressed Scot, Sgt. Shadwell. His character echoes the equally repressed Scottish cop “Sgt. Howie” (Edward Woodward) in 1973’s classic horror tale of Pagan/Christian culture-clash, “The Wicker Man” (another near-subliminal influence).
Miranda Richardson rounds out the main cast as the medium-turned-ally Madame Tracy, who gently ignores the constant stream of rebukes spat forth by her eventual paramour Shadwell. It’s easy to understand how Tracy gets under Shadwell’s thick skin and into his shuttered heart, patiently enduring his unending slurs of “Jezebel” and such, until she gently reels him in at the very end. I’m guessing that Shadwell, like Sgt. Howie, was quite possibly a virgin until Tracy came into his life…
Sam Taylor Buck is also nicely believable as conflicted “Antichrist” Adam, as are his friends, memorably played by Amma Ris, Ilan Galkoff and Alfie Taylor. These kids give the “Stranger Things” kids a serious run for their lunch money.
The voice of the narrating “God” herself is none other than “Fargo” veteran and two-time Oscar-winner Frances McDormand (“You betcha!”). We later hear the velveteen tones of Benedict Cumberbatch married to the image of a massive CGI Satan in the final episode (Cumberbatch also voiced the similarly demonic CGI dragon “Smaug” in the Hobbit movies).
There are also strings of small-but-significant supporting roles from talented actors such as Derek Jacobi (“I, Claudius” “Cadfael”), David Morrissey (“Doctor Who”, “The Walking Dead”), writer-actor Mark Gatiss (“Doctor Who” “Sherlock”) and Reece Shearsmith (“The League of Gentlemen”) as none other-than the Bard himself.
Wickedly witty writing with devilishly good direction.
If you are a fan of Neil Gaiman’s work (or the late Terry Pratchett’s), such as the Sandman comics series, graphic novels, Doctor Who stories (“The Doctor’s Wife” “Nightmare in Silver”), feature films (“Stardust” “Coraline”) or other television (“American Gods” “Lucifer”), there is little about “Good Omens” that you won’t enjoy.
While I’ve not (yet) read the Pratchett-Gaiman book, Gaiman’s script is simply delicious, as borderline blasphemous wit permeates nearly every second of this miniseries. In spite of seeing outlandish and wonderfully ridiculous sights such as the resurfaced inhabitants of Atlantis partying with the captain of a cruise ship (David Morrissey), the ticking clock of Earth’s pending doom still has just enough gravitas for an audience to invest in; after all, this is a comedy about the end of the world.
The pacing is brisk, while still allowing enough room to breathe, thanks to pitch-perfect direction by Douglas MacKinnon (“Sherlock”). There are also a number of cleverly inserted in-jokes, too; Terry Pratchett’s trademark hat & scarf are in Aziraphale’s bookshop, Neil Gaiman has a cameo as the patron of a movie theater. The animated opening credits also contain visual flourishes that cover the entire six episode run. There are also a slew of Doctor Who easter eggs littered throughout the series, both subtle and overt. Adam and his friends even make a direct reference to the Daleks (“Ex-ter-min-ate!”). Doctor Who is a project near and dear to the hearts of many involved in this production, including former ‘Doctor’ David Tennant, Neil Gaiman and Mark Gatiss. Oh, and kudos to “Queen”, for supplying the perfect soundtrack to Crowley’s life…
This is the first horror-comedy series I’ve seen since 1997’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” that has hooked me in its first ten minutes. You don’t have to be a Biblical scholar or even a Christian to get into the premise of this miniseries. For the record, I’m not a religious person (at all), yet I absolutely loved “Good Omens.” Much like Kevin Smith’s “Dogma” (1999), it gently pokes fun at the tenets of religion while still allowing a little genuine divinity to seep in as well. Angel Aziraphale and demon Crowley each recognize a bit of themselves in the other, and that recognition extends to the audience. The lesson of “Good Omens” is that absolutism destroys the world, and only balance (however unstable or tenuous) can save it.