Reading Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and the late, great Terry Pratchett before watching the six-episode miniseries on Amazon Prime Video is certainly not required, but those who have enjoyed the 1990 novel will be wide-eyed with wonder at the “Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch” come to life on the screen on May 31, 2019. From beginning to end, the humorous story of an angel and a demon working to avoid the end times brought on by the birth of the Antichrist remains true to the uniquely British voice of its authors, feeling like a hybrid of Pratchett’s Discworld and Gaiman’s American Gods with a pinch of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy thrown in for good measure.
Michael Sheen and David Tennant are particularly wonderful as the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley, respectively. Good Omens leans heavily into the paradoxical bond these two characters share, both having been part of humanity’s story on Earth since the Garden of Eden. As planet-dwellers rather than disconnected inhabitants of Heaven and Hell, they gain an appreciation for creation that their angelic and demonic peers are lacking and are therefore saddened by the news that the Antichrist’s birth is nigh, signalling the end of days within little more than a decade.
Viewers will enjoy David Tennant’s rock-star swagger and evil nonchalance when an early mistake on the demon’s part sets Good Omens on its comedy-of-errors path, and Michael Sheen’s portrayal of the angel’s awkward meekness and affection gives the friendship between Aziraphale and Crowley the feeling of a much deeper bond. The miniseries even detours from the book a bit to show its audience a sequence of scenes of the two characters throughout the centuries, allowing us to see how they came to their ‘Arrangement,’ in which their actions to influence people to do good or evil cancel each other out.
Admittedly, there are some characters and relationships in the miniseries that don’t feel as completely realised, including Adria Arjona’s character, Anathema Device. Good Omens wisely chose to give her a bit more background in this TV version, but her dedication to the prophecies of her ancestor, the witch Agnes Nutter, which is supposed to define her evolution towards the end of the six episodes, ends up making her a bit one-note. This is especially true with a relationship that blossoms between Anathema and another character simply because their tryst was prophesied. The physical chemistry is spot on, but the foundation for their nerd love is mostly absent.
An early drawback is Frances McDormand’s narrator, who is overly expository in the premiere episode, but fortunately she recedes into a less overt role as the series progresses. That said, making her the voice of God is definitely a clever way of explaining her presence in the story, and since her ineffable plan is a key theme in Good Omens, it feels right that she should tell the tale from her omniscient perspective. A huge part of the enjoyment of the Gaiman/Pratchett novel comes from the witty narration, so it is an essential ingredient here, even if it takes an episode or two to gain its footing.
Adam Young, the Antichrist-to-be, and his band of imaginative friends are perfectly cast as they innocently run their own pretend Spanish Inquisition or speak knowledgeably about worldly topics with the wilful ignorance of youth. Amma Ris as Pepper stands out for her strong performance not simply as the only girl of the group but for bringing to life a character from the book whose empowered views were ahead of their time. There are some stumbles in communicating Adam’s motivations as he grows into his power which involve internal struggles that are no doubt difficult to adapt from the scenes in the novel, but his resolve in the end rounds him out nicely.
Other notable performances include Jon Hamm as the deliciously self-righteous Archangel Gabriel, who wins the prize for the best portrayal of a character not in the original novel. Michael McKean as Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell and Miranda Richardson as Madame Tracy work perfectly in their roles as unlikely neighbours and exhibit a surprising amount of chemistry as the series progresses. And we get some very American Gods-like performances from the actors playing the four horsemen of the apocalypse (Mireille Enos particularly kills it as War), although their overall storyline could have used a more satisfying conclusion, even though the journey as they were called to their final duty was undeniably fun.
In fact, the end result of watching Good Omens as what amounts to a six-hour movie is that Gaiman’s screenplay was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a near-perfect adaptation of his novel, especially with the visually stunning work of director Douglas Mackinnon, cinematographer Gavin Finney, and all of the other artists who created the look of the show. As viewers enjoy the series starting on May 31, 2019, they will feel transported to a metaphysically fantastical world that will make you look forward to Armageddon.
Good Omens arrives on Amazon Prime on Friday 31 May. Come back to read our episode-by-episode reviews. Watch Good Omens on Amazon Prime.