I haven’t read Good Omens since I was a teenager, which was in the last century and yes, typing that out does make me feel painfully old. At the time I was a huge fan of both Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman and though my love for both has faded over the years Good Omens is still a book which I have extremely fond memories of. So I was looking forward to this adaptation for a long time, and even more so when I heard the news that David Tennant and Michael Sheen has been cast as the two leads.
As anyone who has ever read the books will know, the plot is a beautifully blasphemous and fun one as Satan and the other dark lords have decided it’s time to bring about the apocalypse, and so they give the demon Crowley (David Tennant, playing him like a faded rock star, rather egotistical and terribly self-centred) the role of taking a baby Antichrist to a nunnery where he’ll be swapped with the recently born child of American ambassador Thaddeus Dowling (Nick Offerman) and his wife Harriet (Jill Winternitz). Humans being humans it gets screwed up of course, and the kid ends up in the wrong hands, those being the all rather British Arthur (Daniel Mays) and Deirdre Young (Sian Brooke).
Due to knowing each other since the beginning of time Crowley and the Angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen, all rather prim and proper but with a slightly quirky sense of humour) are an odd couple style duo and sort of friends despite being on opposite sides, and they both don’t want the apocalypse to take place as they’ve become rather enamoured with humanity, or at least some of the things we’ve invented, and neither fancy returning to hell / heaven for the rest of eternity if the apocalypse does take place. So a plan is formulated for the two to be sort of Godfathers overseeing the Antichrist’s upbringing and making sure he doesn’t turn out to be evil. Unfortunately for them they’re of course looking after the wrong kid, both unaware that the real Antichrist is with Arthur and Deirdre, and that once he gets to his eleventh birthday, which we skip forward to by the end of this first episode, they won’t be able to do anything to stop the end of the world. Or will they?
After just one episode I’m still not quite sure what to make of it somewhat frustratingly. Some parts work effectively, it’s beautifully shot, the performances are pretty damn stunning and exactly how I pictured them when I read the book but there’s something slightly off about the show, at least in certain scenes. Perhaps it’s because it takes a while to get going and the first half isn’t that funny as it sets up the plot, it begins well with an opening bit of narration that feels like it could have come straight out of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, but after that it slows down and it feels a bit smug, the narration becomes far less amusing and what we’re shown isn’t as clever as it thinks it is. Take the scene where they explain the swapping of two babies for instance, it’s demonstrated with a visualisation of a card trick but the actual swap is far more mundane, and not that interesting either. And though there’s some fun scenes with some satanic nuns who seem all rather sweet apart from their devotion to the dark lord the segment goes on for far too long. At this point I thought I might end up a rather damning review but thankfully after we leave the nunnery it picks up an enormous amount as we see Aziraphale and Crowley attempt to influence the kid and stopping him from becoming the ender of worlds, Sheen gets to wear some silly teeth and be charmingly amusing while Tennant as the Nanny performs a delightfully dark bedtime song.
Also really likeable is Aziraphale and Crowley bickering like an old couple in general, the kid’s mocking Aziraphale’s attempts at performing magic at a birthday party, and the introduction of the hell hound has a strong pay off at the end. It’s just a little irritating that the episode wasn’t particularly consistent, being far too plot heavy during the first half and some scenes set in Heaven and Hell aren’t as intriguing as they should be. Jon Hamm as the Archangel Gabriel is rather wasted right now, but I’m hoping he’ll get more to do as the series continues, the idea that Heaven is a corrupt institution which actually wants war between Heaven and Hell to take place is a great one and I’ll be disappointed if it’s not explored further.
That it’s something of a mixed bag is strange given that Neil Gaiman wrote this first episode and normally when an author adapts his own work it tends to be an effective adaptation, which leads me to wander if it’s inconsistency is due to Terry Pratchett sadly no longer being with us, and that it was Gaiman who was came up with the plot but Pratchett who actually made it funny. This might be a little unfair as it clearly does have some very amusing moments, but I still find myself wishing Pratchett was around to increase the gag rate a fair bit. Still, hopefully now the plot’s established it will become a lot more crazed and daft and hilarious in the way that the book was, and I definitely plan to stick around to find out.