Amazon’s adaptation of the Neil Gaiman/Terry Pratchett novel is an unwieldy but charming tale of finding love in the darkest places.
At its core, Good Omens, Amazon’s new, slow-starting but ultimately very rewarding fantasy comedy, is a love story between two men. It’s not necessarily a romantic love story, but it’s also not not a romantic love story either. After all, the two men are an angel and demon, bringing the entire notion of sexuality into question, and gender, for that matter – why would creatures not designed with reproduction in mind have gender anyway?
The angel is Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and his demon counterpart is Crowley (David Tennant). They’ve been appointed to live on Earth and monitor humans since the days of Eden and, over the subsequent six thousand years, developed an understanding of one another that turned to respect and finally admiration.
When the Antichrist is born and the countdown to Armageddon begins, Aziraphale and Crowley team up to thwart the coming apocalypse, unbeknownst to their respective homelands Heaven and Hell. It seems the two main characters have come to enjoy living on Earth and have no interest in going back to their realms. Life on Earth is fun, the food and art and variety of people are more interesting than the stable but boring Heaven or the exciting but, well, hellish hell. Plus, they have no desire to fight one another.
While other forces of Heaven and Hell have occasionally dipped their toes in the human world, Aziraphale and Crowley have been soaking in it for millennia, it’s changed them both and they’re the only ones who understand or relate to each other’s experiences anymore. They’re friends. And the world isn’t some game board for two parties to destroy in order to settle their differences, it’s their home. Further, people aren’t pieces to be moved and sacrificed on that game board — they’re people and they matter. So they decide to get involved.
If you’re one of those people who find stories about the End Times stressful or upsetting, don’t worry, Good Omens is neither. It’s funny and charming and very human. This series is based on the 1990 novel co-written by the late beloved Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (still alive, also beloved) and is suffused with the detached, dry, stiff-upper-lip British wit that anyone familiar with Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy stories will immediately recognize. Yeah, it’s filled with fire and blood and monsters, but what are you going to do? That’s just life and there’s no sense grumbling about it. It’s a story about a war between God and The Devil and the end of the Earth, but that’s nothing to get all emotional about.
The show has some pacing issues, it spends half of the episodes setting the table for the other half, and there’s a lot to set up. And it’s not always as funny as it wants to be, it sometimes confuses “quirky” with “interesting”, and teeters on the brink of cleverness. While the show does find a rhythm and catch fire (literally at times, there’s a lot of fire) in the second half, the first half is at times laborious as they set up more than a dozen characters and their various backstories and motivations.
It’s filled with fire and blood and monsters, but what are you going to do? That’s just life – there’s no sense grumbling about it.
There are the angel and the demon; the Antichrist Adam Young (Sam Taylor Buck) and his three friends; there’s also Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell (Michael McKean, always welcome), his apprentice Witchfinder Newton Pulcifer (Jack Whitehall), his landlady the phony baloney psychic/prostitute Madam Tracy (Miranda Richardson, a little underused), and the witch Anathema Device (Adria Arjona). There’s also God, Satan, Adam and Eve, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, George W. Bush and even William Shakespeare makes an appearance, Nick Offerman has a couple of scenes as an American Ambassador in England, a whole bunch of various angels and demons, and Jon Hamm steals every scene he’s in as the Archangel Gabriel. It’s a lot to keep track of.
There are moments early on when the various plots and characters and bits threaten to overwhelm the show, but Sheen and Tenant hold it all down with absolutely first-rate work. Sheen’s Aziraphale is painfully earnest, his time on Earth opened his eyes to the necessity of a little bit of corruption. Heaven is great, but let’s face it, when it’s all said and done, where are all the really good writers and artists and chefs gonna spend eternity? Tennant’s Crowley is a monster whose lifetime of cruelly torturing humanity has bred an admiration for the little jerks. Whatever he throws at them, they adjust and keep going and improve. How can you not root for that?
In Crowley, Aziraphale finds someone who understands his need for the occasional indulgence, and in Aziraphale, Crowley finds someone who isn’t a loathsome demon. Heaven and Hell are too focused on one another to give humanity much thought as anything other than the raw material for their armies in their inevitable war. But in each other Aziraphale and Crowley find someone as enchanted by humanity and its foibles as they are.
Which brings us back to love. Love, in all its forms, is at the heart of the show, it drives the majority of characters and has the best chance of redeeming humanity in the face of Armageddon (no spoilers if it works out or not). And it’s what Aziraphale and Crowley have for the Earth, humanity, and one another.
Is that love romantic? Maybe. Could be. The show, adapted by Gaiman, dives more deeply into their relationship than the book did and in so doing gives it more of a solid footing. When, in the face of war, Crowley pleads with Aziraphale to “run away with him,” it’s hard to see it as not romantic. But they never come out and say it, and, again, when you’re talking about immortal supernatural beings, the notion of romantic love becomes a bit fuzzy. Whatever it is, it’s the best, most interesting part of the whole show and gives it all the emotional weight to transcend its clever trappings and become truly moving.
Good Omens premieres on Amazon Prime Video on May 31st.