Love It Or Leave It? Review
May 21, 2019
On May 31, 2019, Amazon Prime releases its newest streaming series, Good Omens. The six episode, limited series is based on Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, the 1990 novel by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.
Sadly, Pratchett passed away in 2015 but we have Gaiman keeping a close watch on the beloved shared work, penning the screenplay for all six episodes and serving as showrunner. Behind the camera, popular British television director, Douglas Mackinnon (Doctor Who, Knightfall, Outlander), directed all six episodes. The large ensemble cast is led by David Tennant and Michael Sheen, with countless celebrities pitching in recurring and regular roles, including Jon Hamm, Michael McKean, Miranda Richardson, Adria Arjona, Brian Cox, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sam Taylor Buck, Jack Whitehall, and Nick Offerman. Oh, and Frances McDormand is the Voice of God!
I started to write too long and detailed synopsis of the show but for those that don’t want to know any specific details or, on the other hand, have read the book and already know the details, this brief-ish explanation will suffice:
Two celestial beings, Aziraphale, an Angel of Heaven, and Crowley, a Demon of Hell, have lived peacefully together on Earth for 6,000 years. Quite comfortable and happy with their human existence (there are no restaurants in the Heaven), Aziraphale and Crowley team up to stop the approaching Armageddon, the Armageddon which had been accurately prophesied by Agnes Nutter, Witch, some 300+ years before. By helping each other (and defying their respective bosses in Heaven and Hell), Aziraphale and Crowley will do everything they can to try and stop the coming War which will settle the millennia-age argument between the forces of Heaven and Hell as to who is stronger. To stop the End Times and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, they’ll need the help of some iffy witch-hunters, a Medium who is also a sometimes prostitute, a Witch descendant of Agnes Nutter, and some kids — one of whom is the Antichrist.
If you need more details, I suggest you check back for our episode by episode deep dive recaps.
“You can’t have War … without War.”
With Good Omens, Gaiman and Mackinnon have given us, the viewers, an accurate and truly faithful adaptation of the fantasy novel which serves as the source material. If you’re a fan of the book, you will delight in the telling of this story. So many of the rich details are recreated on the screen, and in particular, the show does not skimp on pulling out direct quotes and passages from the book. As a fan of the novel, watching this six hour series was the fulfillment of every wish I could have had for putting the words on the page into visual motion.
“Welcome to the End Times.” – Aziraphale
A key component of the success of Good Omens is the fantastic casting. Michael Sheen, as Aziraphale, captures the spirit of the Angel perfectly. The Angel (a Principality if you want to get specific) is troubled by the coming War but also at internal odds with how far he can push himself, and the rules, to team with Crowley to try and stop that which he knows is wrong. And of course, the selfish aspect that he and Crowley share and not wanting to ruin their own idyllic existence on Earth serves as a starting point undertone for his motivations but it grows into something much more than self-interest. Sheen is a treat to watch battle with himself and with Crowley and with his Heavenly overseers as he wrestles with trying to stop this whole affair with the least amount of bloodshed and effort, especially on his part. Even if you have not read the books, Sheen gives you EVERYTHING you need to understand Aziraphale and his motivations and struggles. It’s an acting tour de force.
“I didn’t mean to fall. I just hung around the wrong people.” – Crowley
And David Tennant IS Crowley. It’s hard to think of another actor that could play this role. His outward swagger and devil may care attitude, underlined by a strong pull of friendship and affection for Aziraphale, is a difficult line to walk and David Tennant achieves the affect nimbly and with effortless finesse. As with Sheen, Tennant gives us everything we need to know about Crowley and why he is doing the things he does, and making the choices he makes. Always a physical actor with emotive facial expressions and body language, Tennant brings all of his extensive skill to bear in Good Omens and the effect is six hours of raucous delight.
“God does not play dice with the Universe. I play an ineffable game of my own devising.” – The Voice of God
The other performance that I want to highlight, specifically, is Frances McDormand as the Voice of God. Except for a couple of interactions with Aziraphale, The Voice of God does not interact with the characters in Good Omens, serving instead as the omniscient (duh, she’s God) narrator of the story. In this role, McDormand shines as Pratchett and Gaiman’s satirical voice. Her mellow tone and smooth delivery lets us know that this an absurd story, and that it’s okay to laugh at what we’re seeing, even if the themes seem a little too possible in today’s chaotic world where you can never be too sure that Armageddon isn’t too far away. While Morgan Freeman has served as the embodiment of God for a long while, I whole heartedly nominate France McDormand as all future depictions of the Supremest of Beings.
“In December 1980, an Apple will arise no man can eat.”
Good Omens is a sharp satire of modern life and the absurdity of the divisions we create amongst ourselves as to keep us in a perpetual state of agitation and derision. It blends intelligent wit, with reliable sight gags and humor to make us laugh out loud numerous times an episode. But, it’s also a story of friendship and how our motivations can change over time without us even being aware of it. Whereas we may set out on a project for our own self-interest, before we know it, we’re making choices that are best for our friends’ well being, even if it may cost us eternal damnation. This is the main takeaway of Good Omens, from the story of Aziraphale and Crowley, as well as from Antichrist Adam and his small bad of devoted friends. Friendship is infinitely more important than who has the better weapon or the stronger army.
Love It Or Leave It? LOVE IT! I have been anticipating this show for almost a year now and to finally see it on the screen, it’s literally everything I could have wanted. As a faithful recreation of the novel (which, in a book as alive and colorful as Good Omens, any series that didn’t stay true would inevitably disappoint), Good Omens delivers on every book readers’ dream of seeing this favorite novel lovingly adapted for the screen.
And, if you haven’t read the book, no worries. You don’t need to. In six hours, you get every nook and cranny the novel brings forward and even more so, because where liberties have been taken, it’s all to the positive in visual effect, humor, and good-natured Easter Eggs (there is a Doctor Who reference and an American Gods shout out to just name a few hidden gems). Good Omens is going to make you laugh but also make you think about the nature of humans – the good, the bad, and the in between. It’s beautiful to look at and as a short binge, will leave you well and satisfied.
Bold Prediction: It’s only May, but I find it hard to imagine another show this year that will make me feel that I saw as complete and well-rounded a story as Good Omens.
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