This review contains spoilers.
1.4 Saturday Morning Funtime
It’s one thing to write a yellow toad-faced alien emerging from a flying saucer to chastise a passing witchfinder for his species’ poor planetary husbandry. Writing it only requires a keyboard and an imagination. Having a yellow toad-faced alien emerging from a flying saucer to chastise a passing witchfinder appear on screen takes a great deal else – a keyboard, an imagination and the wherewithal to convince the money people backing this adaptation that no weird idea should be left behind.
No weird ideas have been left behind in Good Omens. Everything – Atlantis, the Kraken, the tunnelling Tibetans, the toad-faced alien (or was it more duck?) – has been crammed in to this madcap concoction. The result is a teetering stack of the bizarre, a blend of childlike and adult likely to unsettle those who prefer their entertainment easily categorised.
The children were a focus of episode four, as Adam began to exert his ungodly powers on his unwilling followers. Shame on us, his rallying speech about environmental devastation, and the (published in 1990) novel’s urgent anti-nuclear, eco-activism message is now more relevant than ever.
Episode four, because of its focus on events in Tadfield, feels the most childlike yet. It may feature an acid-melted face, extreme bunny rabbit violence, a hit-and-run, a played-for-laughs sex scene and an angel saying the f-word, but older kids will lap all that up. As long as your family has a sense of humour, this is family viewing.
Jack Whitehall’s hapless, exaggeratedly childlike Newton Pulsifer in particular, feels straight out of kids’ TV. His and Anathema’s story is easily the least compelling, and their interaction pales in comparison to anything featuring Aziraphale and Crowley. In the absence of that energising pair, the familiarity of the gags – that under-the-bed sex scene, for instance – starts to feels too familiar by half. As a location, Jasmine Cottage and its inhabitant(s) just can’t compete with the design and performances elsewhere.
The same could be said for Shadwell, another slight character easy to lose among the bustling crowd. Without Miranda Richardson’s luminous Madame Tracy, the witchfinder sergeant might fade into the background.
Good Omens has a lot of backgrounds. Its set and location design is top stuff. In heaven, hell, Aziraphale’s bookshop, Crowley’s flat and Hogback Woods, production designer Michael Ralph and his team have established distinct environments that can be read at a glance – a real help with a story that whizzes around so much.
The idea of heaven and hell occupying the top floor and basement of the same building is a neat one that plays into the series’ repeated suggestion that not so very much separates both belligerent sides in this war. Heaven’s blown-out Apple Store lighting versus Hell’s dank, unhealthy corridors buzzing with an infernal soundscape plays particularly well on screen.
Other things that play well on screen: David Morrissey as the blink-and-you’ll-miss-him captain of a cruise liner, the Kraken-as-environmental-activist (top Pratchettian line, “This isn’t a whaling ship, it is a scientific research ship. Currently, the scientific question it is researching is how many whales it can kill in a week”), Ned Dennehy as deeply evil duke of hell Hastur, Michael Sheen performing the gavotte on the head of a pin, and the massive, glowing, floating head of Derek Jacobi.
See? Weird. With two episodes remaining, let’s see if this bonkers story can get any stranger.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.