Here to lick some serious butt.
Yo, this be Reuben. As my brother’s quite the avid fan of Terry Pratchett’s work, I feel a little like the enemy, or at least, having caught a horrible case of the normie, for being one of the many to flock to Amazon Prime to watch this TV rendition of his work (although admittedly also half Neil Gaiman’s work as co-author of the book, lest we forget). So this review’ll be one from the perspective of someone new to this vein of work entirely – make of that what you will.
Adapted to TV and directed by Douglas Mackinnon of Sherlock and Doctor Who, Good Omens follows the tale of the angel Aziraphale and the devil Crowley, who, having cancelled each other out for millennia by spreading corruption and goodness in equivalent measure across Earth, form an unlikely friendship, and a love of the planet and all its Earthly things. The main crux of the plot, developing from this, is the looming Armageddon, which sees an 11-year-old Antichrist initiate the end of the human world and a holy war between good and evil as part of God’s “Great Plan” – and Aziraphale and Crowley’s attempts to stop it from happening — with help from witches and witch-finders alike along the way.
What sticks out most in Good Omens, from practically its very first moment, is its fantastic character and sense of fun which is embodied most powerfully by Michael Sheen and David Tennant’s performances as Aziraphale and Crowley respectively, which, for lack of a better word, are brilliant. The two, well-versed in British comedy and drama both, play off each other with ease and hilarious wit, coming off as one of the best character duos I’ve seen in a long time, whilst spearheading the playful and nonchalantly peculiar atmosphere so well conveyed in the series, which I’m sure the original book’s authors would be proud of. Indeed, pretty much every single character is likable, as even if the angel-devil double-team may be the *best* on screen, each character in its small cast is given room to breathe, and are acted, for the most part, well to boot — with Jack Whitehall in particular putting in a pretty impressive performance as Witch-Finder Newton Pulsifer, and lest we forget, John Hamm as Gabriel too.
Beneath the characters and their performances lies a great comically driven script derived from Gaiman and Pratchett’s original work’s quirky sense of humour which makes good work of doing those great performances justice. Seeing Aziraphale and Crowley playing off each other through history is only ever entertaining, and, with Gaiman at the writing helm for the series, his and Pratchett’s unique mark of brilliantly British and odd comedy is kept very true throughout – and, might I add, is at its funniest in Episode 3, chronicling the main duo’s backstory, with quips about the Round Table and Noah’s Arc being particularly enjoyable (or, in the words of Aziraphale, scrumptious, perhaps?).
This smartly written comedy is given depth, too, by Gaiman’s tongue-in-cheek take on morality and classical Theism, with the changeable contrast between Aziraphale and Crowley highlighting the grey area between good and evil, and, quite fittingly, what it means to be human in a world of such confusing contrasts. Frankly, this light-hearted approach to moral philosophy does a lot more for working out what it means to be human than a lot of philosophers’ complex work on the subject, and tied with such comical brilliance and some genuinely heart-warming moments, a watch of Good Omens helps embrace the human condition, and the goodness of what it is to be what we are, to have moral freedom, and to love worldly possessions that others may view as silly. And, as a Christian myself, it’s nice to see a production respectfully take the mick out of it all — things are put into perspective, and it’s so much fun to see these issues through the colourful and lively lens of Gaiman and Pratchett.
In terms of the structure and production of the miniseries as a whole, Mackinnon, Gaiman and co. do a solid job of the pacing, presenting a well-purposed and structured plot in a well-realised and balanced manner with just about an equal weight of drama, comedy, and, of course, duff-duff moments to carry along the suspense, keeping us on our toes. As Gaiman fittingly puts, “the lovely thing about Good Omens is it has a beginning, it has a middle, and it has an end…It finishes. You have six episodes and we’re done. We won’t try to build in all these things to try to let it continue indefinitely.” Honestly, in today’s market of money-grabbing continuing series for the sake of it, that’s a really refreshing thing, and something that makes Good Omens that bit more enticing to watch. And, boy, does it end. A lovely inclusion of A Nightingale Sang at Berkeley Square raps everything up in, quite honestly, wonderful fashion, and the last couple of episodes offer a near-perfect conclusion to the series, underlining the show’s refreshing take on the TV medium not only by ending it, but by being happy, too.
However, for as much praise as I can give it, Good Omens has its flaws. Firstly, whilst the series is paced well story, character and everything wise, it may just be me but, it feels as if it doesn’t get into the proper swing of things until the third episode, when things really start to get brilliant. Perhaps a point I can’t quite describe with reason, it’s a point I’m keeping here nonetheless, because I enjoyed the second half of Good Omens more than the first. Maybe it’s because it took me a little while to completely get used to the American voice over, which, I’m SORRY, feels a tad out of place amongst the rest of the series.
Moreover, there are moments when Gaiman’s series feels very much like it’s a British comedy-drama on Amazon Prime. Now that might sound confusingly vague and sweeping a thing to say, but I think, directed by Mackinnon previously of such work as Doctor Who, sometimes it feels a little bit like Doctor Who in its production and direction, or perhaps sometimes something from CBBC when the young Antichrist and his friends take the fore: Mix that with its massive budget and its place on Amazon and it can very much feel like a big talked about TV drama ‘event’, and that detracts from its understated and quirky tone a little, making it feel less like Good Omens, and a bit more like this show that you should soooo watch, it’s simply wonderful.
I suppose something that doesn’t help in terms of that big TV event kinda feel is that every now and then, unfortunately, Good Omens feels a little corny. The biggest culprits here, certainly, are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which see a strong original concept perhaps portrayed with slightly too hammy a list of performances, with Mireille Enos in particular coming off a little too cheesy for her own good as War. I feel like these characters and performances embody that big-budget blockbuster side of the show with their big abrasive cheesiness, and while the plot and the feel of the series as a whole lends itself to the silly, and the cheesy, in this instance it feels too much at odds with the rest of the characters and happenings. I don’t think this aspect of the show is helped by its Queen-dominated soundtrack, either, which, while filling its empty spaces with some choice classics, it feels, perhaps, a little over-the-top as a result.
Still, on the flip-side, Mercury’s ever-present screams and massive guitar turns contribute to the fun-loving and playfully dramatic atmosphere that runs through this series’ veins. And while it’s not perfect by any means, the overwhelmingly pleasant and entertaining nature of Good Omens, not least the fantastic, almost profoundly affective comedy writing fronted so well by Michael Sheen and David Tennant’s performances do good justice, I imagine, to Gaiman and Pratchett’s much-loved novel.
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