This review contains spoilers.
1.2 The Book
Having delighted fans with fidelity to the novel and the crackling partnership between leads Crowley and Aziraphale in episode one, now comes the real work. Good Omens has a story to tell, and it’s sprawlingly ambitious. The beginning of man to the end of the world is a fair whack of time. Celestial immortals, 17th century witches and a gang of 11-year-old kids is quite the character range. Earth, heaven, hell and a small village off the A40 are a very big sandbox in which to play.
In six episodes, how in creation will it manage to draw everything together?
By putting comedy first, is the answer. In whatever mad directions the plot lurches (from an African peace treaty-signing-turned-massacre to a corporate paintballing retreat this episode), its love of a gag is always at the forefront. That’s what unifies Good Omens’ riotous display – a desire for larks. Lord knows we need them. After all, this is the end of the world we’re talking about.
The scene in which Jon Hamm’s Gabriel and Paul Chahidi’s Sandalphon visit Aziraphale’s bookshop squeezes gags into nooks and crannies. It boasts three honed comedy performances, fish-out-of-water comedy from the archangels (a deeply erotic tome, Mrs Beeton’s Book Of Household Management), a Jeffrey Archer gag and just joy.
An even tinier moment later on proves Good Omens’ commitment to having a good time: in a gag worthy of Airplane! (the highest compliment payable), the camera travels smoothly over the Dorking rooftops to the bedroom window of a young Newton Pulsifer, where it stops prematurely short, having banged into the glass. Details like this, in a series rich with detail, make Good Omens feel loved.
The cast clearly loves it. Miranda Richardson as Madame Tracy “squeezing into the leather pinny”? Bliss. Josie Lawrence as Agnes Nutter, soothsayer, last real witch in England and the inventor of jogging? Luxury.
Commitment to the job is everywhere visible. David Tennant has evolved an entirely new form of perambulation to play Crowley. His rock-star demon moves in an exaggerated sashay, as if his top and lower halves are on their way to two different orgies in opposite directions. He’s played louche before – memorably as Casanova in Russell T Davies’ hoot of a period drama and less memorably as Vegas magician Peter Vincent in the 2011 Fright Night remake – and gives every impression of having a marvellous time doing it.
(There’s a little of Tennant’s Doctor Who energy in Crowley and it’s not just the accent. Striding past Aziraphale at the former Satanic nunnery saying “I like spooky. Big spooky fan, me,” he could have been Ten.)
Episode two introduced two new central characters (three counting Agnes, four counting Shadwell, five counting our glimpse of the redheaded leather-clad War … I hope you’re keeping up): Anathema Device (Adria Arjona) and Newton Pulsifer (Jack Whitehall), a witch and a witchfinder, two young people caught up in the end of the world. More to come from those two.
While war was brewing, Crowley and Aziraphale were playing detective to track down the missing antichrist. Their bickering repartee kept the episode bubbling along while it zig-zagged between the Blackadder-ish 17th century and the present, to another continent and back again.
Throughout, Crowley continued to needle his nervy pal, pointing out the hypocrisies in the angel’s side’s stance on guns (“They give weight to a moral argument” indeed), in a scene that continued this show’s lightly handled theme that there’s crossover in so-called good and evil. By the end of the episode, Aziraphale proved that much by tracking down the boy but lying about it – how very demonic of him.
All the while, the story expanded, jokes were told and fun was had.
Perfectly balanced? Perhaps not. Every single character fully realised? With a cast this big, unlikely. A story moving seamlessly in one direction? Don’t be silly. But oh, the love in this thing. It’s a balm for the heart.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.