“Good Omens” (2019)
Written by: Neil Gaiman based on Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Directed by: Chris Renaud
Featuring: David Tennant, Michael Sheen, Adria Arjona, Miranda Richardson, Michael McKean, Jack Whitehall, Jon Hamm and Frances McDormand
“You’re the best friend
That I ever had
I’ve been with you such a long time
You’re my sunshine
And I want you to know
That my feelings are true
I really love you
You’re my best friend” – Queen
Released recently on DVD and Blu-ray is the BBC/Amazon event miniseries “Good Omens” (2019) the adaptation of the novel by the late Terry Pratchett and still alive Neil Gaiman who is the driving force behind this series that hots all the right notes which should please fans of the book as well viewers who have never heard of this beloved property. The last few years has seen Gaiman’s name almost becoming a household name with this series as well as the adaption of his masterpiece ‘American Gods’ (2001) into a US television series, which he is now producing after a bumpy first two seasons. However, with the backing of Amazon “Good Omens” shows what can be done with some excellent material as well as talent both in front of and behind the camera who are all committed to bring something special to the screen. It is evident that no expense was spared in mounting this production with a variety of locations, sets and special effects that do justice to the story of a boy making his way in the world with some suspect biological parents.
Over the past few years and especially since the advent of ‘peak TV’ there have been any number of high concept television shows that have missed the mark for one reason or another either they lacked the creative control behind the scenes, had plot issues, front of camera talent miscast and just took the eye of the central idea that made such projects appealing to begin with. However, in the case of “Good Omens” none of this is the case in fact on almost every level it succeeds as a quality original and searingly humorous take on a few stories that have existed in popular culture since the 1970s as well as poking fun at religions in a way only Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman could do. Of course, there are two main elements that make “Good Omens” such a success they are fairly simple, one is the direct involvement of writer Neil Gaiman in the material and the casting of the two leads in David Tennant and Michael Sheen as Crowley and Aziraphale who are as good as they have ever been. It assists both leads that this is not the first genre piece either of them have been in and so know instinctively how to balance their performances from the sublime to the ridiculous which “Good Omens” requires of not only the leads but the entire cast.
Set in 2018, the series follows the demon Crowley (David Tennant) and the angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen), longtime friends who, having grown accustomed to life on Earth as representatives of their respective masters, seek to prevent the coming of the Antichrist and with it Armageddon, the final battle between Heaven and Hell.
“Good Omens” is also in the hands of director Douglas Mackinnon who is one of the more successful, high profile and experienced directors working in UK television at the moment, he is one of the more obvious choices for this miniseries. Mackinnon has been working for the past four decades, he has directed some of the more iconic television series in that time winning awards as well as high viewership figures, something few of his countryman can say especially those that are not household names, he has also just shifted in to producing his own work which seems like a natural progression at this stage of his career. One of Mackinnon’s major strengths is marshalling high profile writers, with high profile actors and merging them with well-known properties to create interesting and compelling stories, all one has to do is look at his work on “Line of Duty”, “Doctor Who” and “Sherlock”. The other aspect that Mackinnon has in terms of his experience is an abundant use of special effects which are in full force in “Good Omens”, in fact this would be biggest use of CGI in his career and is for the most part executed excellently.
The rest of the cast is filled out with extremely experienced actors including Miranda Richardson, Michael McKean, Jack Whitehall, Jon Hamm and Frances McDormand who all have varying experience not only with television but with genre pieces as well, however in saying that they all are believable without winking at the camera at all, with this type of project there can be a tendency to do that. The surprise is relative newcomer Adria Arjona as one of the protagonists, Anathema Device who recently made a splash in the Netflix “Witcher” (2019) series. Here Arjona has to play a variety of aspects of her character, there is humour, action, drama and a myriad of other elements that need to coalesce throughout the series which culminate in a climax where she has to share the screen with some legends and she comes off as well as those actors maintaining her excellent performance throughout.
“Good Omens” is one of those properties that has been around for a while as the novel, it was also adapted for radio, so the inevitable big or small screen adaption was always going to happen. We can be thankful that although Terry Pratchett shuffled off his mortal coil that Neil Gaiman was so heavily involved so that the essence of the story as well as the humour was retained to create a piece of television that is actually very special something that is still unique in this day and age. What makes it fun viewing for people of most ages is that the show is primarily set in the fantasy/horror genre with a healthy amount of humour which is good natured and delivered by actors who all know where the line is and never cross it once. This is an expertly pitched series that is self-contained telling a story that almost everyone can identify with, it is about truths that many can recognise, not only that but it reaches a very satisfying conclusion.
In the Beginning: The angel Aziraphale and demon Crowley meet for the first time at the Garden of Eden as Adam and Eve are expelled after Crowley tempted them with an apple. Fast forward to 11 years before Armageddon. Crowley is told to deliver the Antichrist to a satanic convent, where the baby will be given to an American diplomat and his family. However, a mix-up occurs and the Antichrist ends up with a middle-class English family, the Youngs.
The Book: Aziraphale assures his superiors Gabriel and Sandalphon that all is well with the Antichrist. A parcel delivery man is sent to gather the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; War, in the form of a war correspondent, receives an ancient sword. In 1656, the prophetess Agnes Nutter is burned at the stake by Witchfinder Thou-Shalt-Not-Commit-Adultery Pulsifer; Agnes causes an explosion, killing everyone present. Her book, The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, is left to her family and passed through the generations. In the present, Agnes’ descendant, American occultist Anathema Device, is charged with learning the prophecies and saving the world. Pulsifer’s descendant, Newton, meets Shadwell, a modern-day witchfinder.
Hard Times: Aziraphale and Crowley’s relationship is revealed through a series of historical events, ranging from Noah’s Ark and the Crucifixion of Jesus through 1960s Soho. Along the way, they cross paths in Ancient Rome, Medieval England, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Revolutionary France, and London during the Blitz, when the Nazis were seeking books of prophecies for Adolf Hitler. The two strike up an arrangement to each do some of the other’s work when possible, saving time and travel. In the present day, Adam and Dog find Anathema, upset at losing her book, and she discusses environmental issues such as the danger of nuclear power plants.
Saturday Morning Funtime: Adam’s dreams bring several magazine articles to life, including the appearance of Atlantis and the Kraken. His increasingly controlling behavior worries his friends. Aziraphale fails to convince Gabriel to stop Armageddon, and his superiors question Aziraphale’s loyalty after seeing proof of his meetings with Crowley. The angel Michael contacts Hell, causing trouble for Crowley, who tries to talk Aziraphale into leaving Earth together. The last two Horsemen, Pollution and Death, are summoned.
The Doomsday Option: Crowley races through London only to find the bookshop in flames, with no sign of Aziraphale. In Heaven, Aziraphale refuses to join the war and, determined to stop Armageddon, leaves without a body. He finds Crowley, who has salvaged the copy of Agnes’ book in which Aziraphale left information about the Antichrist, and they arrange to meet at Tadfield Air Base.
The Very Last Day of the Rest of Their Lives: Adam separates Aziraphale from Madame Tracy, and his friends defeat War, Pollution, and Famine, while Death takes his leave. Beelzebub and Gabriel arrive to ensure Adam starts Armageddon in accordance with the Great Plan, but he refuses. Aziraphale and Crowley suggest to their superiors that what they want may be part of the Great Plan, but perhaps not the Ineffable Plan. Both sides reluctantly stand down. Satan emerges but is renounced by Adam, who restores the world, including Aziraphale’s bookshop, Crowley’s Bentley, and the lives recently lost. Found guilty of treason by their respective superiors, Aziraphale is ordered to be destroyed by a hellish flame and Crowley is forced to enter a tub of holy water. To everyone’s shock, both survive.