Would that I – with any modicum of decency or honesty (granted, two qualities I seldom concern myself with) – could claim the 6 hours I spent drinking boxed wine, eating pizza and watching Good Omens this weekend, in the name of professional obligation; the higher calling of the critic to their quarry or something equally noble. Wouldn’t that just be the tits? But as it stands, that I am reviewing this delightful season of television is just a happy coincidence; I was never going to not watch it. That simply wasn’t an option. Being able to write about it for you lovely people is simply an added privilege (don’t doubt for a second that I know how fortunate I am permitted your ears – or I guess, more anatomically accurately, your eyes, but you get it. Let’s not quibble, this is a festive occasion.)
Like American Gods, I read Good Omens in college. Unlike American Gods, I only read it the once, and so had ample time to forget a lot of the finer plot points by the time of this viewing. The fundamentals remained both in my consciousness and preserved to the show; an angel, Aziraphale and a demon, Crowley, have been balancing each others’ good and evil for centuries and must band together to stop the apocalypse once they realize that they both prefer the little luxuries of earth to the seeming tedium of eternity. The basic thrust of the series is set into motion when Crowley is tasked with delivering the antichrist to a satanic nunnery, where a politician’s wife is given rather impromptu birth. The idea being that the nuns will switch out the natural born, human baby with the antichrist, who will then be raised with careful demonic and angelic intervention, until he is ready to trigger the end times on his 11th birthday.
Because this is a Terry Pratchett property, things go farcically off course when a young, very, aggressively average couple show up and also give birth at the nunnery, giving us three babies in motion. The normal couple’s baby goes to the politician’s wife, the politician’s wife’s baby goes who knows where, and the antichrist gets sent to a nice, normal, happy childhood. Crowley and Aziraphale spend the next 11 years influencing the wrong child, and only discover their mistake when no hellhound shows up to be named on the aforementioned 11th birthday. Of course, in a small house in the countryside, a hellhound DOES show up to be named. A name that will shape and influence the course of his evil and power. That name is… Dog.
That joke is a perfect encapsulation of the charms of Good Omens – the show, as the book was, is a study in de-escalation. Sure, it’s the end of the world, but let’s not be dramatic. It’s extremely, aggressively British. Crowley and Aziraphale discover their mistake and have to scramble to find the actual antichrist, while covering their asses from increasingly concerned and suspicious respective managements. Simultaneously, a witch from a long, dynastic line of witches that began with Agnes Nutter – who wrote the only accurate book of prophecy ever – is also seeking out the antichrist, believing it is her destiny to prevent Armageddon. Anathema (her name is Anathema; let us never accuse the show of leaning too heavily on subtlety) finds the right place but is unable to identify Adam as the antichrist, because he presents as too sweet and normal an 11 year old boy. But he is, indeed the antichrist and he is coming into his powers. To say too much more would be to strip the series of the pleasure of it unfolding for you; so now we’ll talk about elementals less plot based and more technically sparked.
First and foremost, the show recognizes – rightly – that a huge amount of its success hinges on the chemistry and watchability of the actors playing Aziraphale and Crowley. So mark it inspired, the casting of David The-Tenth-Fucking-Doctor Tennant as Crowley and Michael Sheen as Aziraphale. They are, to the breath, perfect. Tennant exudes a slimy charisma – in another life, he would have made an excellent rock star, with his heroin chic frame and his ready smirk. And Sheen is legitimately just adorable; in a lot of properties, it’s easier to root for evil; it’s more attractive, often, and sly and seductive. And for certain, Tennant is all of those things, but the sweet sincerity of Sheen makes Aziraphale an unlikely underdog you can’t help but want to protect. And most importantly, they bounce beautifully off of each other. I’m not saying Crowley and Aziraphale are gay icons. But I am saying they should be, as they are pretty damn clearly in love with each other. Though the show never goes explicit with that subtext, it also doesn’t shy away from it. And refreshingly, it doesn’t play it as a joke. When someone tauntingly refers to Crowley as his boyfriend, Aziraphale makes no effort to deny it. These supernatural beings are in love. It’s canon.
If I were to register one complaint against a series that is, overall, really fun and bright and witty, it is simply that the CGI is almost distractingly bad. All that Amazon money behind them, for such shitty CGI. But this is ultimately a minor complaint against a fun and convoluted narrative. And also, the absolute most pleasurable opening credits sequence I’ve seen in awhile, if not ever. For six episodes, I did not skip it.
I could ramble on at length about the quality and charm of the series; but the most impactful thing I can say is this: my 19 year old self, having just finished and loved the book, would be thrilled with this adaptation. And far more importantly, so would Terry Pratchett.