Good Omens, the book, has been out for almost thirty years. Good Omens the Amazon television series has been released recently. Time for a review.
Good Omens is the story of the Apocalypse. It began with mankind in the garden of Eden. Crawly the snake seduced Eve into eating an apple from the forbidden tree. God kicked Adam and Eve out of Eden and history started. 6,000 years later, the Apocalypse is about to start.
Enter Crowley the demon and Aziraphale the angel. Crowley — formerly Crawly the snake — and Aziraphale met on the walls of Eden as the humans were kicked out. They’ve been running into each other ever since and became sort of friends. As far as an angel and a demon can become friends.
As the Apocalypse approaches and the child of Satan comes to Earth, the two become uncomfortable. They like humanity and they like things as they are. They don’t like the coming war and the end of the world at all. So they hatch a plan…
Crowley — played by David Tennant — and Aziraphale — played by Michael Sheen — are the highlights of Good Omens. Their interactions and views on the world make the show.
Crowley is evil, with a touch of good, and Aziraphale is his opposite: good, with a touch of evil. Crowley, for example, isn’t that much into being a demon, he just ‘sauntered vaguely downward’ and it kind of happened to him. Aziraphale, well, he’s kind, but he doesn’t listen to his superiors too well, gifting his flaming sword to humanity, for example.
Then there’s Adam, the son of Satan, who lives, blissfully ignorant, in Tadfield England. He’s a boy in the classic English sense of the word. He has three friends and together they have adventures. Until the Apocalypse starts.
Another role in the tale is for the so-called army of witchfinders. Sergeant Shadwell leads the army — is the army, really — but he finds one recruit, Newton Pulsifer, descended from the famous witchfinder Thou-Shall-Not-Commit-Adultery Pulsifer.
Last in the mix is the descendant of the witch Agnes Nutter, Anathema Device. Agnes Nutter was a witch who made a set of very accurate predictions of the future, and was burned at the stake by Thou-Shall-Not-Commit-Adultery Pulsifer. She blew him up in the process, and made sure her descendants were taken care of, knowing — of course — very accurately what was to come. Her descendant Anathema is charged with preventing the Apocalypse at all cost.
Good Omens is a brilliant book. However, like the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it relies on the writing style a lot. And like the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, that’s hard to translate to the screen.
Neil Gaiman and Sir Terry Pratchett wrote Good Omens chapter by chapter, each adding hilarious footnotes to work of the other. These footnotes are one of the highlights of the book, but naturally translate poorly to the screen. Luckily, the show does an admirable job of putting in the jokes from the books in visual form, or asides from the narrator.
Crowley and Aziraphale steal the show, as they do in the book. When you look at both works, they start out focused on the demon and angel, then slowly expand to include Adam, Anathema Device, and the witchfinders. Unfortunately, like in the book, the latter part of the book focuses mostly on Adam and the Apocalypse. Adam, as a character, is the least interesting of the book, leading to the first part of the book being brilliant, and the latter part being so-so. The show is the same.
On top of that, the show meanders at the end. About halfway through the last episode things seem to be done. Unfortunately, like the Return of the King, each last scene is followed by a new last scene. About four scenes too late, the credits actually role. At least, that’s my impression.
If you loved the book, you’ll love the show. A preference for English absurdist humor that mocks some of the strangeness of the bible and of humanity, you’ll like this show too.
If you hate fantastical tellings and fairy tales, you’ll probably hate Good Omens as well. Even so, if you have Amazon Prime, give it a whirl.