Even as his American Gods fell apart in its second season, allegedly due in some part to the author’s interference, Neil Gaiman split his attention to a second television project more under his direct control. Amazon’s Good Omens is in some ways a more consistent and successful piece of work, but leaves me thinking that Gaiman’s talents are better showcased in print.
Based on a novel that Gaiman co-wrote with the late Terry Pratchett back in 1990, Good Omens is a satirical send-up of Judeo-Christian mythology seen through the eyes of a natty angel named Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and a wily demon named Crowley (David Tenant) who become unlikely friends after the Garden of Eden. Each tasked by his respective side in the celestial conflict between good and evil to exert an influence on the development of the human race, the two conclude that their efforts will inevitably just cancel each other out. As such, they decide to stand back and let humanity sort itself out while they file false reports to their head offices about their successes and accomplishments, none of which were really their doing.
After centuries of settling into comfy lives on Earth with little to no oversight, Crowley and Aziraphale find themselves under greater scrutiny when Hell forces Crowley to swap out the newborn son of an American diplomat (Nick Offerman) with the Antichrist, and then keep tabs on the boy until his 11th birthday, upon which the Four Horsemen will join him and trigger Armageddon. When the forces of Heaven, led by the bullying Archangel Gabriel (Jon Hamm), learn about this, they’re actually psyched. They have no interest in stopping the great war, but only in winning it, unconcerned that it will mean the destruction of Earth and the eradication of all humanity.
Because none of this is in the interests of either Aziraphale or Crowley, the two must work together to save the Earth. Unfortunately, their efforts are complicated when they realize that, due to an incompetent mix-up, they’ve been watching the wrong child all along. While they’ve been distracted with the diplomat’s son, the real Antichrist, an innocent boy named Adam Young (Sam Taylor Buck), has grown up in the bucolic English countryside oblivious to his destiny as the agent of the apocalypse.
Season Verdict / Grade: B
Good Omens strives to be a witty and whimsical fantasy with grand mythological and philosophical musings about Heaven and Hell, religion and morality, and mankind’s place in the universe, all delivered between laughs. At its best, the TV adaptation feels very reminiscent of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, substituting angels for aliens, told with a visual playfulness out of early Terry Gilliam. Sheen and Tennant are clearly having fun as the leads (witness the way Tennant seems to be channeling Bill Nighy for much of his performance), and at least the first half of the six episodes are delightful.
Unfortunately, the entire show is overburdened with way too much voiceover narration by Frances McDormand playing God. Scene after scene stop dead while the actress reads text presumably taken directly out of the book. As screenwriter and show-runner, Gaiman is faithful to his novel to the point of forgetting how to tell a story on screen.
The series also peters out in its last three episodes and becomes something of a slog as it sidelines the humor to focus on the mundane mechanics of plot, much of which isn’t nearly as clever or interesting as Gaiman seems to think it is. The few attempts to make a pun or crack a joke in this section feel forced, and the show’s early climax is followed by a protracted dénouement that drags on interminably.
I enjoyed Good Omens on the whole, but I suspect that the book (which I haven’t read) is probably more satisfying.