"Good Omens," starring David Tennant and Michael Sheen as Crowley and Aziraphale — a demon & angel duo attempting to halt the end times — this TV adaptation (out now on Amazon Prime) of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's novel has a stacked cast and the direct involvement of Gaiman behind it. Does it make the leap of faith to the screen?
At Its Core, 'Good Omens' Is All About Stopping Doomsday
Aziraphale and Crowley's unlikely friendship, formed over the 6,000 years that have elapsed in this version of Earth's history since Crowley got Eve to eat the apple, is the heart of the book and now the miniseries. Confronted with the news that the apocalypse is about to begin – and Crowley delivering the satanic baby that will kick it all off in 11 years into the care of the satanic nuns who will swap it with an ordinary newborn – they are horrified. Both have got too used to the comforts of Earth to want them destroyed.
The Antichrist – an 11-year-old boy – has been prophesied to trigger an all-consuming war between Heaven and Hell, but the angel and the demon agree that if they can track him down, they might be able to persuade him to delay the End of Days. They just have to make sure that no one from Heaven or Hell notices what they're doing.
That Said, It Has Wild Ideas And Side-Plots To Spare
Those who've read Gaiman and Pratchett's novel will know that the series is as lighthearted a telling of the end of days as such a story can get[…] The advantage this approach affords the series is one of free-wheeling silliness, a tale where anything can and (almost) does happen, and where, provided the viewer is along for the ride, nothing much matters because it was all just a fun little goof anyway.
It's a confusing, feverish tale told via a collage of delightfully funny tidbits and an exasperating number of subplots, or are they the plot? Hard to tell.
Listen, this is a story that not only involves the modern-day appearance of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Pestilence is replace by Pollution), two of which are played by women and all of them on thundering motorcycles, but also the appearance of the Kracken and the rise of the Lost City of Atlantis. So if that's going to be a problem for you, maybe look elsewhere.
The Filmmaking Is Out-There To Match
The cinematic sensibility is something like… I don't know, like if Terry Gilliam, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger all had a lovechild. There's Powell-and-Pressburgerish, deeply saturated, slightly hyperreal color and exquisitely weird visual imagery; there's Gilliam-saluting surreal, and sometimes hammy, oddball cheekiness side by side with an arrow-to-the-heart sort of emotional honesty.
It's a kind of storytelling so maximal that the same 57-minute episode can contain a tangential alien invasion and a physics lesson explaining how angels and demons can shrink and grow in size (featuring multiple Sheens dancing the gavotte and multiple Tennants getting down to disco).
Tennant And Sheen Are At The Top Of Their Game
Together, it's like watching two musicians at the top of their game play a duet; they positively sing. In those moments, the vibrancy and energy of Gaiman and Pratchett's book shoots to the surface, and is even deepened and enriched by the artists interpreting it. When Gaiman and Mackinnon return to those actors, the series becomes the compelling story of an unlikely friendship, a sort of undefined rom-com between two immortals with the end of the world as a quirky backdrop. That's the "Good Omens" worth watching. The rest of it's not bad—not world-ending, but not exactly heavenly, either.
Tennant and Sheen are fabulous together. They embody the deep affection and irritation of a long-term marriage while dancing atop the thrill of a forbidden, clandestine love affair.
Both Sheen and (a miraculously non-manic, given the potential of his part) David Tennant as the demon Crowley are wonderful[…] Their chemistry is a joy, even if the banter they are given is often stale or overegged.
The Rest Of The Amazing Cast Is Unfortunately Hamstrung By Characters Without Much Substance
As difficult as it is to imagine, Michael McKean's heavily accented witch-hunter becomes not just a one-note ninny, but a regular nuisance; Gaiman relies far too often on him, along with more mortals, to carry overly complicated exposition and run around with largely meaningless errands. (Related: Jon Hamm's wry Gabriel, a character not in the book, isn't given nearly enough to do.) Everything they do does connect with the angel and demon's main story, but more by force of will than symbiotic necessity.
Beneath the razzle-dazzle, every character apart from the main two is tissue-paper thin. This is particularly true of the female parts (Frances McDormand as the narrating voice of God aside), a historical weakness in the fantasy genre you might have expected Gaiman to take the opportunity to shore up. When both Crowley and Aziraphale are offscreen, things fall flat.
Even the Four Horsemen, whose actors include Mireille Enos and Brian Cox, can't live up to the hype that precedes them.
The Story Could've Been Streamlined For The Sake Of Building Appropriately Apocalyptic Tension
The problem with a story that both wanders and is predicated on a ticking time bomb and race against the clock, is that to spend time on one can weaken the other. The plot moseys alone at a slow but steady pace, bursts of energy often undermined by the same action taking place again an episode or two later, or by filmmaking (from Douglas Mackinnon) more concerned with quirk than with questions.
Let's face it, if a TV series can't imbue the imminent obliteration of everything and everyone on the planet with a sense of urgency, then it has to be doing something wrong. Animated signposts keep swinging onto the screen to tell us how many days and hours are left until doomsday, and yet Good Omens meanders along as if it had all the time in the world.
Tennant and Sheen are incredibly engaging, whether on screen together or not, and Hamm seems to be enjoying himself immensely. That level of energy is palpable, and helps mitigate the feeling that Good Omens, while being occasionally a good time, is mostly a mixed bag.