TV Review – Good Omens

Creators: Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett

Writer: Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett

Starring: David Tennant, Michael Sheen, Frances McDormand 

Tagline: “The end is nigh”

Trivia: Most music throughout the series is from Queen. This is a running joke in the source book, in which every cassette tape left in Crowley’s car for a fortnight, magically turns into “The Best of Queen.”

Let’s start by a confession – If I had to take only one author’s books to a deserted island it would be Terry Pratchett. I can read his books over and over again without getting bored and still enjoy as if it was the first time. So, obviously, this review might not be as objective as it should…

Hearing that Good Omens was turned (finally) into a screen version got me into two minds. First I was delighted then I remembered other attempts to turn Pratchett’s books into a movie and how disappointed I was, but not this time.

Adapting a book to a TV is not an easy feast – having to translate the characters onto the screen doesn’t always go smoothly as many times we need to find a way to translate the character’s inner thoughts and feelings, or having to bulk up or trim down various plots as needed, or even rebalance various character’s roles to improve the original.

Lucky for us this task was handed to Neil Gaiman who wrote the book together with Terry Pratchett and was able to do a fantastic adaptation of it.

The major challenge was finding a way to adapt the voice of the narrator of Good Omens, which plays a huge part in making the book such a joy to read.

It’s a cheerful and at the same time with dire sense of humor that carries through the book’s silly story about the apocalypse, and the combination of lightness and darkness in its tone is an impressively fitting match for a book about an angel and a demon who become friends.

The book is full of self-satisfied vocabulary and jokes about the nature of text. It is a book about books and about good and evil and humanity at the end of the world.

That premise presents a high degree of difficulty, adaptation-wise. Narrator voice is always hard in TV; so few series can nail voice-over in a way that doesn’t feel clunky, and the process of figuring out how to translate style in language into a similar style of TV storytelling is even harder.

Director Douglas McKinnon has found the answer in creating visual busyness (just like in his other famous show, Sherlock) with cute signpost markers, and stamped-on images to help denote dates and locations, and a hefty dose of a literal Voice of God as a narrative through line. (God, in this case, is played by Frances McDormand.)

Much of the original dialogue has been transplanted into the script, and the series’ brisk, snappy editing style — specifically its whooshing transitions from one scene to the next — go a long way toward replicating and re-creating the book’s wry tone. It is self-consciously constructed as a silly, constructed thing.

The other major success of the series is its two lead characters, the good angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and the bad angel Crowley (David Tennant).

Aziraphale is a posh, upper-class gentleman; a delicious, fragile collection of nervous chuckles, aristocratic hobbies, and restrained emotion.

Crowley, equipped as he is with Tennant’s long spidery legs, is every inch the Fallen Angel. He slouches across the screen, sneering and cocking one eyebrow and blasting Queen from his car speakers.

Together, he and Aziraphale have all the zinging chemistry of a deeply felt if emotionally avoidant male friendship, and their bond gets more fun the more they realize that they, themselves, don’t actually understand what makes one thing good and another thing evil. 

Good Omens works best when Tennant and Sheen are both onscreen, politely deferring to one another about how to deal with the end times.

Where things go a bit sideways is when it comes to the secondary characters. Most of the secondary characters are paper-thin; this is particularly true of the female parts (even though Frances McDormand is narrating the voice of God).

The full name of the book is “Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch,” So you would expect to get a full character on Agnes Nutter or her descendant Anathema Device (Adria Arjona), but even she gets a very shallow treatment.

The fact that the minor characters are so much weaker than the two leads unbalances the ending a little.

But it is still fun and stylish and it has enough of the book’s original quirky spark to give us all a great time watching it. I’d still bat on it.

Verdict – 4.5/5 Stars in my book


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