Welcome to the End Times! Uh, no, sorry, not the global pandemic. Not political unrest around the world, the capitol insurrection, or anything else remotely political. Or, you know, that ship that got stuck in the Panama Canal. (Though that seems like something that would fit right in with the world of Good Omens.) Rather, welcome to our Summer TV Binge coverage of Good Omens, the cheeky apocalyptic comedy from BBC Studios and Amazon Prime.
1. In the beginning
The year is 1990. The Cold War is still on and Margaret Thatcher hasn’t yet fallen from power or risen to Netflix stardom. Neil Gaiman hasn’t yet changed the landscape of comics by winning all the awards for “The Sandman” and helping to bring the medium into what is (sometimes) considered “serious literature.” Terry Pratchett, an established science fiction writer, has already created the Discworld universe and found success as a writer but hasn’t yet become a knight or universally beloved. Nowadays, Gaiman and Pratchett are household names, so long as your household is properly geeky. But in the late 80s, neither were well-known and in this environment of uncertainty and tension, they collaboratively wrote a cheerfully cynical but ultimately optimistic story in which characters from extreme opposites unite to avert both nuclear armageddon and armageddon of the literal, biblical sense.
Thirty years later, a deal with Amazon gave Neil Gaiman the ability to adapt his co-creation. According to Gaiman, adapting “Good Omens” was one of Sir Terry’s last requests and he felt he had to honor it. From the quirkiness of the first episode’s narration to the lovely paper-doll-themed intro montage and extremely catchy song, it seems clear to me that this show was made by people who loved the wordplay and quirky randomness of the book. Some of the jokes work better than others, and bits on the page don’t always translate well to the small screen. (The baby swap is absolutely hilarious in the book, but goes on much too long in the show.) But even the inept Satanic nuns seem to be leaning into the “Good Omens” universe earnestly, without too much of the cynicism that balances out the gleeful weirdness of the original book.
2. God created mankind in (Her) own image
Before Amazon premiered the first episode, a shouty group of people discovered that the production depicted Adam and Eve as people of color and that Frances McDormand was cast as the voice of God. (Probably those same shouty people are now shouting at Neil Gaiman for casting on his as-yet-unreleased adaptation of “The Sandman.”) Gaiman updated “Good Omens,” a thirty-year-old book, to reflect today’s world by casting non-white actors, including nonbinary characters, and generally setting aside the idea that angels and demons need to have genders at all. People on the Internet, predictably, lost their minds.
That being said, if the idea that Heaven might be the sort of barren office building perfect for hoverboarding offends you, the rest of “Good Omens” is probably not going to be your cup of tea. “Good Omens” is a cheeky sendup of organized religion, and whether or not you’re okay with the idea of an angel drinking to excess in the company of a demon simply because they happen to get along will affect your enjoyment of the series. Taken seriously, it’s about the fundamental question of nature versus nurture. The show ponders whether a child raised with competing influences can end up neutral, or if intrinsic properties determine our destiny. Taken not so seriously, it’s a show where David Tennant slinks about in very tight pants and makes cracks about “The Sound of Music.” Your mileage, influenced by your own upbringing, will vary.
3. Let there be David Tennant (and Michael Sheen)
Speaking of David Tennant in tight pants, while the imagery of the garden of Eden is striking and the opening narration by Frances McDormand is silly, right off the bat it becomes clear that the heart of this story is going to be the relationship between Aziraphale (played by Michael Sheen) and Crowley (played by David Tennant). The two are polar opposites in everything from their very natures (Crowley is a demon while Aziraphale is an angel), to their hairstyles, outfits, ways of sitting on a bench, and philosophies.Continued below
If you’re accustomed to seeing David Tennant as a dashing time-traveling alien in an oversized trench coat, his snake eyes and red hair may come as a bit of a shock, but Tennant takes the slithery coolness of Crowley and runs with it. Similarly, Michael Sheen, who always tends to fade into his characters even when they’re real people, completely inhabits the tartan-wearing, old-fashioned, stuffiness of Aziraphale. Even though the cast of “Good Omens” includes Jon Hamm as Aziraphale’s smarmy boss and Nick Offerman as a smarmy American diplomat, Tennant and Sheen steal every scene they’re in with the sort of mismatched odd-couple chemistry that can make or break any comedy duo.
4. The Beginning and the End
As for the first episode’s plot, we cover quite a lot of ground. From the creation of the universe, all the way up to 2008, then on into the present day. (Or, 2019, anyway.) Standing on the wall of the garden of Eden, the angel meant to guard it converses with the serpent sent to tempt Eve. Aziraphale gives humanity his flaming sword, thus gifting Adam with the first weapon. And the demon Crawly, now in human (ish) form, has given them knowledge in the form of the forbidden apple. Both angel and demon wonder whether they’ve inadvertently done the wrong thing. (In Crawly’s case, the right thing.)
Fast forward to 2008, when the world gets its reckoning in the form of the antichrist. Crawly (now called Crowley) and Aziraphale have apparently never lost touch, and have both started to enjoy the world a little too much for their respective bosses. They hatch a truly ridiculous plot to convince the antichrist not to destroy the world by posing as his fairy godfathers. Or, angel godfather and demon godfather, respectively.
5. The antichrist is coming
As if Crowley and Aziraphale’s plan wasn’t silly enough, they screw up even further by haunting the childhood dreams of the wrong kid. The babies are switched at birth due to timing and the cluelessness of a white man, which, you know what, seems about right. The antichrist is delivered to Mr. and Mrs. Young, a couple so normal they could be on a poster for wholesome cereal. Meanwhile, Aziraphale and Crowley hover creepily over the shoulder of Warlock Dowling, the son of an American diplomat and his long-suffering wife. Warlock turns out to be a bit of a stinker, but you have to wonder how much of that is privilege and how much is the weird nanny in dark sunglasses singing to him about evil while the family gardener tries to teach him about compassion while wearing a terrible disguise.
The proverbial shit hits the fan when Warlock turns eleven and is supposed to receive a hellhound as a gift from, well, Hell. The dog doesn’t turn up, and Aziraphale and Crowley realize that they (and the rest of humanity) are screwed. Meanwhile, the hellhound does show up at Adam’s idyllic childhood forest hideout, just in time to discover his true nature as a young boy’s best companion, a small dog.
That’s it for the first episode of “Good Omens.” Join us next week as Armageddon draws even nearer!
Amazon announced recently that “Good Omens” will return for season two. Although the six episodes that comprise season one fully adapt the book’s plot and Terry Pratchett passed away several years ago, Neil Gaiman has mentioned bits of the unwritten sequel they plotted together but never wrote. So we’ll all have to wait until next year to find out what happens after Armageddon.