Good Omens is a novel by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. It is much loved by many people. And by ‘much loved’ I mean: “there are people like me who have read it multiple times and who owe much of their personal philosophy to its story about an angel and a demon who work together to prevent the Antichrist delivering the apocalypse so any adaptation for any other media better not fuck it up too much even if it is adapted by the surviving author.” And so to Amazon Prime comes a six-part TV version, adapted by Neil Gaiman, and starring Michael Sheen as the angel Aziraphale and David Tennant as the demon Crowley. Nothing has been fucked up. In fact, it’s rather marvellous.
I was fearful. Of course I was fearful. I’ve listened to the radio version. And it wasn’t bad but it didn’t sparkle like the novel. I also endured the first season of American Gods wherein ten endlessly long episodes took us laboriously through only the first third of that Gaiman novel. I have not been back for series two. The list of excellent Pratchett transfers from book to other media can be counted on the fingers of no hands. I think I had every right to be fearful. And I have a feeling that those fears were shared at every level in this production because it’s remarkable how much they have got right – and they have done so by staying true to the spirit of the book without slavishly insisting that everything in it finds its way onto the screen.
Good Omens the TV series should probably pay royalties to the estate of Douglas Adams. The Voice of God (Frances McDormand) frames the action as both narrator and wry observer, and the interconnectedness of all things that powers the Dirk Gently novels is a running theme throughout. (As an aside, compare how well this series works with how not well at all any Dirk Gently has worked).
Whilst the focus is very much on the central bromance between Aziraphale and Crowley, Good Omens is very much an ensemble piece. The decision to strip down the book’s myriad digressions is a good one and leaves most of the enjoyable supporting characters in place. Anna Maxwell Martin is dead eyed and pus-ridden as Beelzebub, Sam Taylor Buck’s performance as Adam conveys neatly that balance between childish whimsy and understanding of the perils of the world beyond his Tadfield utopia, Jon Hamm is a terrifying-in-their-efficiency Archangel Gabriel, and Adria Arjona is suitably confused-witchy as Anathema Device. It was also nice to see Josie Lawrence get to play Agnes Nutter, the seventeenth century prophetess whose predictions are so shockingly accurate, given that she did an excellent job as the voice of Agnes in the radio series. A huge number of other British actors and comedians seem to have picked up pay-cheques too.
Good Omens doesn’t seem to have been particularly warmly received by critics. Perhaps they are feeling bit humbled after gushing in advance about American Gods. Maybe they think that it’s a bit too much out of time. A thirty-year old novel which itself homaged 1970s films, 1950s Americana, Queen, and had as its key location a fantasy village based on a nostalgic, imagined England that never existed. Whatever. They’re wrong.
Whilst not, to me, ever as laugh out loud funny as the book, this is a very enjoyable series. With enough nods to keep long-term fans like me happy, I reckon there’s plenty here for the casual observer too. Watch it before the world ends.