There are so few perfect book-to-film adaptations, but Good Omens is definitely one of them. Based on the 1990 novel by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, finally adapting it to television was one of Pratchett’s dying requests to Gaiman before he passed away in 2015. Needless to say, there was even more pressure than novel to bring the beloved book to life than the already fever pitch fans have had since it was first released.
Well, it dropped early on Amazon last night thanks to the wonders of time zones (it’s a BBC production), and it’s impossible to think it could have been any better. Just as BBC nailed Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, this modern classic is the best version of its story aside from holding a dog-eared copy in your hands someplace quiet.
For the uninitiated, Good Omens is the story of the End of Days and mostly how when you trust Armageddon to the English things go very pear-shaped. It stars Michael Sheen as the angel Aziraphale and David Tennant as the demon Crowley, two journeymen supernatural frenemies who love the Earth and humanity so much they softly thwart their respective superiors at every turn so they can continue hanging out down/up here.
Everything hinged on the casting of these parts and it could not have been better done. Sheen’s Aziraphale is delightfully anxious, an angel whose moral conscience is constantly at odds with the orders from above. Tennant is simply marvelous, chewing scenery with a sinister swagger that mixes the Tenth Doctor with the delightfully ridiculous turn he did as a stage magician/vampire expert in the otherwise forgettable Fright Night remake. Essentially, the plot is a millennia-long conversation between the two of them about what is right and kind, even when it comes up against what is allowed.
That’s just one part of the marvelous puzzle. Thanks to a visit from Mr. Cock-Up, the Antichrist grows up in a pastoral English village instead of under the watchful eye of an American diplomat (President George W. Bush makes a blurry, faceless cameo). Of all the things that benefit from having to wait so long for the show to be made this is the best. The Antichrist is a brilliant, funny boy named Adam surrounded by a misfit gang of friends who go by Them. In a post-Stranger Things/It media landscape, it now hits the perfect note instead of the slightly too-Chosen One tone it had in the book. Here, it’s adorable and delightful.
At six episodes, it’s both too-long and far, far too-short. There’s been some significant tightening up in places, as well as a lot more space given to Aziraphale and Crowley’s histories. Sometimes the pace is lurching and clunky, but as it was built for people to consume in one or two mad sprints anyway I’m not sure it matters. Visually, it’s gorgeous. Casting-wise, it’s nothing less than inspired (France McDormand as God. ‘Nuff said). For the first time ever, I find myself wanting a sequel. What is the plural of apocalypse?
When I interviewed Gaiman two years ago, he told me how knee-deep he had been in Good Omens so that he could get it just right in Pratchett’s memory. At the time I was just annoyed that the project had kept him from contributing to Doctor Who again, but the release of the series blows away all other considerations. It is simply perfectly done. Remember the first time you watched The Fellowship of the Rings and saw the heart and attention that went into it? It’s like that, but better in every way. I doubt anyone could have asked for more.
Good Omens is available on Amazon Prime now.
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