The Quirk and the Dead: ‘Good Omens’ realises its portent-ial…

A screen adaptation has been a long time coming, but Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's 'Good Omens' has all the signs of success...

God (Frances McDormand) has a plan. Or so she says. And so does her opposite number. But for eons (in fact, since the Garden of Eden) two respective minions, one from each side of those tracks, have done their best to do the job given to them. Crawley – or Crowley as he prefers – (played by David Tennant) is doing the devil’s work, while Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) is God’s humble servant. Yet, from the very start, the two strike up an unlikely camaraderie, tolerant of each other’s approaches throughout history and even occasionally helping each other for the greater good/evil (depending on your point of view). They realise that there’s some truth to the notion that if they both actively do their damnedest to influence the same event/person, they effectively cancel each other out and it all wastes a lot of time and ethereal energy. They and humanity sometimes benefit from them secretly sitting out their duties and just having a nice cup of tea instead (though don’t tell the boss).

However, all good things must come to an end and  it becomes clear that a baby Anti-Christ is about to be delivered and will grow up to end the world a decade and a half later. Crowley is charged with bringing said child to an order of fallen nuns, but in a mix-up, the baby gets traded out not for the intended American diplomat’s newborn but a seemingly unremarkable couple from Swindon.  It’s only years later that Heaven and Hell, both prepping for ‘the big one’, begin to realise that something has gone askew and the young boy has no idea of his mission-statement. 

Aziraphale and Crowley, slowly realising the wider and personal predicament they are in, are both racing to get things back on track – however neither wants to see the end of their time on Earth and they begin a plan of their own that might not be met with universal approval…

 

The late Terry Pratchett was a cornerstone of modern fantasy, but also the deliciously-judged marker of the middle-ground between the wordsmith that was Douglas Adams and the magical scribe that is J.K. Rowling. Neil Gaiman is a creator who makes the mundane become arcane, imbuing the everyday with the end of days and was therefore the perfect writing partner for Pratchett when they came together to blend their ideas for the apocalyptic tome Good Omens, first published in 1990.

Add to this already potentially-potent mix, the cosmic cat-nip that is forever David Tennant, the consistently versatile Michael Sheen and the goddess that is Frances McDormand… and the vessel with the pestle certainly has a brew that is true. That is to say,  Amazon Prime‘s long overdue televisual adaptation of Good Omens has a lot of promise and a bevvy of ingredients with which it would be hard to fail. And though it might not suit every taste, it’s fair to say that it does its source material proud – essentially running with Pratchett and Gaiman’s sideways glance at the idea of The Omen movie (Anti-Christ, demon-spawn, holy and unholy agendas etc etc) and asks what happens when such a masterplan gets royally screwed up… and a renegade demon and angel have to play hard and fast with the rules to save life, the universe and everything.

The opening salvo starts very much in the vein of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, with McDormand providing a somewhat omnipotent monologue about the history of the world and the position of some of the players we’re about to meet. There’s some truth to the observation that it’s likely to go down well better with existing and devoted Pratchett, Gaiman and Tennant fans who will get everything they want and more, but  marginally less so with those coming in completely cold and who won’t be sure if religion is being lampooned, faith celebrated or humanity eviscerated (Answer: yes, to all, in equal and deserved measure). But go with the flow and there’s plenty of rewards.  In a good way it’s all as singularly British in its attitude as Monty Python, Harry Potter and complaining about the weather but with an internationally-known cast, a dry sense of humour that should travel well and an array of jokes that should please all ages (and will go over the heads of anyone younger/older – * delete as applicable) it should largely appeal to a global audience.

Tennant has been hired for what he does what does best – gliding through a scene with nonchalance, charm and a sardonic, quickfire banter, the ideal casting for a silver-tongued and yellow-eyed demon called Crowley with a gift for self-promotion. Sheen – whose ability to bestride multiple genres with ease (think everything from Underworld to The Queen and Nixon/Frost) seems effortless – provides a sometimes naïve but quietly proactive angel in Aziraphale who sees no harm in breaking a few small rules  – including his ongoing association with Crowley – but would swoon and fret about any infringement of the bigger rules and grand plan for eons. In some ways both eat the sacred and profane scenery, but they do so with the sense that it was as fun to make as it is to watch.

There’s a raft of  in-jokes and easter-eggs (watch for Vincent Price in The Witchfinder General playing on a café tv screen) and  a considerable array of talent are happy enough with supporting parts or what amount to extended cameos. Though it takes a few episodes to find its footing and pacing (with a growing number of players entering the fray, there are several threads to follow, slowly converging) a nice anarchic rhythm is established, enhanced by regular doses of Queen (and that other be-bob band Velvet Underground). The extended flashbacks that fill almost half the third episode’s running-time feel like a lighter-hearted Highlander romp through history and arguably could have carried an entire less-apocalyptic series in their own right, and amid the spectacle it becomes clear that Crowley invented sunglasses several centuries before we thought…

There are moments when so much is going on and so many agendas are colliding that it’s hard to keep track and the limited series tends to weave in and out of such threads as it sees fit, but slowly bringing them in tighter and forming a tapestry with a few frayed edges. In the end Pratchett, Gaiman and director Douglas Mackinnon are a great creative team and their ensemble cast do them proud. The only niggle is a few errant four-letter swear-words that aren’t likely to offend anyone except the truly faint-hearted, but which make this just a little less suitable for youngsters who would otherwise revel in it all as much as their ‘olders’.


Good Omens‘ is now available on Amazon Prime

'Good Omens'  (tv review)
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'Good Omens' (tv review)
  • Story
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  • Acting
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  • Direction
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  • Pacing
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  • Appeal to Gaiman/Pratchett fans
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TELEVISION REVIEW
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