The follow-up to 2019’s Good Omens is more confident & streamlined & retains what worked before & loses what didn’t. Mostly.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the series being covered here wouldn’t exist.
The 2019 adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s 1990 novel Good Omens was a charming show that succeeded in translating the book’s strengths and weaknesses to the small screen. It was clever like the book, with an ingenious plot (what if there had been a mix-up at the hospital and the Antichrist went home with the wrong family) that parodied The Omen while conjuring an apocalyptic tale all its about an angel and demon whose millennials-long rivalry grew from mutual antagonism, to grudging respect, and finally admiration and even a kind of love. But it also carried over the book’s weaker elements, its wonky pacing, plurality of uninteresting characters, and the fact that the first two thirds of the story is essentially table setting for the final third.
Good Omens 2, which appears to be based on nothing save (maybe?) a few conversations Gaiman and Pratchett had in a hotel room in 1989, is a sequel series that manages to retain so much of what made the first story work while diminishing what slowed it down. The result is a more confident, focused series that’s engaging from start to finish. Or at least to the end of episode five, which was as far as the screener went.
Series 2 starts on the right foot, opening with the mysterious arrival of the archangel Gabriel (Jon Hamm) at the London bookshop of the angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) completely nude, carrying only a cardboard box, and having no memory of who he is or where he came from. Good Omens had too many characters, and, other than the two leads, few of them were all that compelling. But Hamm’s Gabriel wasn’t one of them, he was smug and officious, the ultimate pain in the ass good boy, confident that every decision he made was the absolute correct one.
But now, uninhibited by memories of any kind, and renamed Jim, he’s become earnest and sunny, a true tabula rasa delighted by everyone and everything he encounters. Aziraphale doesn’t know what Gabriel/Jim is doing at his bookshop, but he does know that whatever it is, can’t be good, so he turns to the only person (demon, divine creature, you get the idea) he can trust, his friend, the demon Crowley (David Tennant).
The first series of Good Omens was about the impending apocalypse, which is to say it was about fate, which is also to say it was about role playing and duty. Will everybody play their assigned parts for the prophecy to occur? Series 2, on the other hand, is a mystery. Instead of being about making the thing happen that everyone said was going to happen, it’s about no one really knowing what’s going on or why. In the first series, everyone knew their role and what side they were on, or supposed to be on anyway. Everybody had a job. Series 2 is more about not having a job, having no real role or duty and the vacuum that can create. It’s about what happens after the thing you’ve been working on forever finally happens and you’re at loose ends trying to figure out what’s next.
And what’s next is an amnesiac Gabriel appearing on Aziraphale’s doorstep with only the vaguest notion of a terrible event coming in the not-so-distant future. The disappearance of God’s right-hand man and boss-of-all-bosses archangel understandably sends shockwaves through Heaven and Hell, with both organizations committing to find him. Aziraphale, no longer in Heaven’s employ due to his meddling in the whole apocalypse fiasco back in the first series and believing that whatever caused Gabriel’s memory loss is the result of some information that he wants to keep away from both Hell and Heaven, resolves to give him sanctuary in the bookshop.
Crowley, also unemployed for pretty much the same reasons and sure that it’s a bad idea that will get them both in serious trouble, agrees to help his only friend do a miracle to make Gabriel essentially invisible to all celestial agents. They still see him, but they don’t see the uber-powerful Gabriel, all they see is Jim, the good-natured dope. But Heaven and Hell detect the miracle itself and when confronted Aziraphale claims that it was a simple love spell directed at two of his neighbors, record shop owner Maggie (Maggie Service) and coffee shop owner Nina (Nina Sosanya).
Good Omens 2…manages to retain so much of what made the first story work while diminishing what slowed it down.
So now Aziraphale and Crowley have to work together to actually get the two together, while also trying to discover just what happened to Gabriel and what it might mean for the future of, well, pretty much everything. The love story is a funny, low-stakes, screwball premise that makes a nice contrast with the potentially intergalactic peril that comes with whatever is actually going on with Gabriel. Unfortunately, this is where things kind of run aground again because, for some reason, as good as Gaiman and company are at humanizing the denizens of Heaven and Hell, they struggle with doing the same for the actual human characters.
Much more successful is the sweet, vaguely existentially confusing, love story between Aziraphale and Crowley. Sheen and Tennant starred in the first series as the first among a cast of equals, not exactly the main characters so much as the two who weave together all the disparate plot threads, drive them, and bind them together. They fill much the same role in series 2, but there are far less threads to follow so they end up getting a lot more screen time and if they don’t grow all that much (as ancient celestial beings they’re pretty set in their ways) the nature of their relationship is more directly addressed.
Flashbacks to various eras demonstrate each man(?) sacrificing bits of their moral integrity to help the other, as well as demonstrating to both of them that the world may not simple be a Manichean battle between “good” and “evil.” It’s a subtle, lovely Odd Couple style relationship, except instead of being between a messy sportswriter and an anal retentive… whatever it was Felix did, it’s a proper, well-behaved angel and a slovenly, ill-tempered demon.
So yeah, at the end of the day, it’s still the Sheen and Tennant show, this time with more Hamm. But that’s okay because the two leads have such great chemistry and so clearly enjoy being in each other’s company that someone could make a show that’s basically just the two of them hanging out together and it would work (check out Staged if you haven’t yet). And Hamm’s cheerful dullness makes a splendid third to Sheen’s uptight fussiness, and Tennant’s barely simmering rage. The plot is tighter, and more compelling than with the first series, but at its heart, this is a hang-out show about two old friends who’ve known each other so long they can’t remember a time they didn’t and couldn’t imagine life without. The magic is in who these guys(?) are, not what they’re doing. And spending another six odd hours in their company is a pleasure.
Good Omens Series 2 premieres on Prime Video July 28th.