More often than not, book-to-movie adaptations, even if they do decently at the box office, tend to fall short of their source material. However, this Amazon mini-series has the rare distinction of surpassing the World Fantasy award-nominated novel that Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett wrote together, mostly via long phone calls in 1990, back when the former worked on-off as a journalist and the Discworld novels had only gathered a modest fame. And in many ways, the two genius writers despite the glaring differences in their creative styles (Gaiman has a penchant for a matter-of-fact Gothness while Pratchett always delighted in satirical and absurd hilarity)- closely represent the demon-angel partnership that tightly and funnily ties the apocalyptic plot of Good Omens together. And there’s something so deeply vintage, absurd and absolutely comic about that partnership, that makes the mini-series one of the most gorgeously-decorated and delightfully refreshing shows on current television.
Good Omens is a story about a lot of things. For instance, it is a story about Doomsday and the dubious preventing of it. It is also a story that satirizes religion, politics, the establishment and the many terrible things that people usually do. It tells the story of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and the games that four children play together, till one of them go awry. It details the prophecies of one Agnes Nutter, a witch who even predicted the time of her being burnt at the stake and whose utterances come true in unlikely ways in the centuries that elapse since her death. And it is also a thinly-veiled slow-burn gay romance about a demon ‘Crowley’ (played to manic perfection by David Tennant) and an angel “Aziraphale” (Michael Sheen, at his brilliantly British best), who must set aside their moral differences for the greater good (and for each other). As the book puts it: “The Devil has all the best tunes..But Heaven has the best choreographers.”
And that’s another great thing about the show- almost every line of dialogue (be it their witty banter or Frances McDormand’s narration as the voice of God) is hilarious and instantly quotable. With Gaiman as the show runner, almost all the best scenes from the book have been faithfully adapted, while the new additions, such as the inclusion of Jon Hamm as the Archangel Gabriel, fit charmingly like a glove. The plot too, closely follows the novel: Crowley and Aziraphale, have known each other and the comforts of the Earth for over 6000 years. However with Armageddon looming- the two are unwilling to see their beloved planet become a war-zone for the forces of Heaven and Hell- even though Crowley, ala Doctor Who style puts forward the proposition, that they too could run away and live a life of glorious seclusion among the distant stars, which Aziraphale declines with utmost consternation.
So instead the duo decide to watch over the kid (who they erroneously deem to be the Anti-Christ) for the next eleven years, convinced that their fiendish and heavenly influences on the child will nullify each other out, leaving the kid as ‘fundamentally’ human as possible. But of course, they discover too late that they’ve been watching over the wrong child for all these years. Meanwhile, the Hellhound duly delivered (and rechristened simply as “Dog”) has found his master in Adam Young, a white kid with strange reality-warping powers, growing up in an idyllic English village, with his own Stranger Things gang of friends. It takes the burning of an antique bookshop, driving through a Ring of Fire, the angelic possession of the body of an ageing medium-cum-prostitute and an unlikely romantic alliance between a sassy occultist and a socially-awkward computer engineer to stop the End of the World and the Final War. The result of course, is a cosmic mixtape that’s absurd, darkly comedic and irreverently delightful.
But the show’s biggest strengths- the sizzling-but-never-igniting chemistry between Tennant and Sheen- also works somewhat against it. Because apart from Crowley and Aziraphale, the supporting characters are pretty one-dimensional, but that’s more of a fault of the humour fantasy genre where more often-than-not, complex characterization is sacrificed for the sake of a witty punchline. In Pratchett’s novels, hilarious though they are, the lead characters are no better or subtle than the stereotypes they represent. We don’t really get any justification why Madame Tracy is unduly invested in Witchfinder Shadwell, or why Anathema Device (a charming representation of a New Age witch) must do “it” with the clearly-incompetent Newton Pulsifer, other than the fact that there’s a prophecy that’s ordering her to do so.
Similarly, while the cameo entries of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse- War, Famine, Pollution and Death- are gorgeously choreographed with over-the-top costumes, their roles and screen presence was almost minimal and sorely missed even though it’s no surprise that Gaiman does personification and visual metonymy really well- Hell is portrayed as a dirty, decaying, bustling office that shuns modern technology and Heaven is a crystal-clean corporate organization, where the angels are as polite and ruthless as capitalism would have them be. In fact, most of the scenes without Crowley and Aziraphale seem somewhat bland (only) by comparison, and redeemed by the extravagant CGI or the book’s trademark brand of humour- setting the stage for the duo’s return. As such, the first half of the third episode- that focuses on the duo’s relationship as it develops over the years, spanning Biblical events, Arthurian legends, Shakespeare’s plays, the French Revolution and World War II- is easily one of the best and most memorable sequences in the entire series.
With only 6 episodes, the show neatly wraps up its apocalyptic plot with Adam renouncing his demonic father Satan (another digitally-rendered villain in the manner of Dormammu and Smaug that Benedict Cumberbatch seems to specialize in), yet Crowley and Aziraphale’s last on-screen lunch-date in a fancy restaurant in Berkeley Square, will leave the viewers wanting for more, almost as though they’ve drank a glass of very fine wine, a little too quickly, and as such the lingering aftertaste is memorably sweet but full of nostalgic longing.