Written back in 1990, the bestselling fantasy comedy novel Good Omens from Neil Gaiman – who’d just started The Sandman for Vertigo a year earlier – and the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett was published and has never gone out of favor since. The hilarious, imaginative tale of an angel and demon teaming up to save the world when the Antichrist is born had obvious cinematic potential. So, it’s not a surprise that Terry Gilliam once developed a movie version in the early 00s with Johnny Depp and Robin Williams attached to star.
However, the project – ironically, for a story about the spawn of the devil – dwelt in development hell for years. That is, until Gaiman decided to take matters into his own hands. After Pratchett asked his co-writer to helm the TV adaptation of the book that was in early development at the time (shortly before he died in 2015), Good Omens finally got going. Now, four years since Gaiman started work on his first job as a showrunner, the end of the world is nigh as the BBC/Amazon Prime Video collaboration hits the streaming service at the end of May. But was it worth the long wait?
Long story short, Good Omens is thankfully one hell of a ride. In lieu of Pratchett working by his side, Gaiman is clearly the right person to bring the book to life. There’s a lot of fidelity to the source material – Gaiman’s said he particularly aimed to save Pratchett’s ideas and jokes rather than his own – but the showrunner clearly also gave himself the freedom to add in fresh material and alter whatever he saw fit. In fact, Gaiman incorporated some of the ideas from his and Pratchett’s abandoned sequel into the show. This means even more characters and subplots are inserted into the already ambitious narrative, but somehow Gaiman keeps things bouncy and fun for the duration of the trim six episode run.
Not that all the credit can be lain at Gaiman’s door, however. Douglas McKinnon, who’s previously shown his skill on Doctor Who and Sherlock, manages to realize the ridiculous story with inventive direction and strong production values across the board. Plus, David Arnold – whose Sherlock theme was recently voted the UK’s favorite – provides one of his customary great scores. The jaunty opening music, in particular, is a devil of an earworm. The fact that Queen agreed for some of their best-loved hits to feature on the soundtrack doesn’t hurt things, either.
In the run-up to release, the quality of the cast garnered a lot of attention and, once watched, you’ll realize that was completely warranted. The credits list is an embarrassment of riches, made up of some of the most acclaimed British stars out there with a few well-known American names thrown in, too. You’ll be forever pointing at the screen and going “hey, it’s…” at the latest brief cameo from some recognizable face. Of the supporting cast, the highlights probably have to be Jon Hamm as the sickeningly suave Angel Gabriel and Benedict Cumberbatch’s minor but memorable voiceover turn as Satan himself. And, of course, the whole thing’s tied together by Frances McDormand’s narration as God.
The bulging regular cast doesn’t have a fault in it, either. British comedian Jack Whitehall is great value as the hopelessly nerdy Newt while Adria Arjona (Triple Frontier) proves again why she’s no doubt going to become a huge star in a couple of years as the thoroughly 21st century witch Anathema Device. Sam Taylor Buck, meanwhile, is a talented young actor, pitching the unwitting Antichrist Adam perfectly between sympathetic and sinister. And kudos to Michael McKean, who plays Witchfinder Shadwell, for his accomplished Scottish accent. Not many US actors could pull that off.
But Good Omens belongs to Michael Sheen and David Tennant as the aforementioned angel and demon duo. The pair are old friends in real-life and that chemistry shines through on screen. Tennant’s a natural at playing loveable scoundrels like Crowley while Sheen couldn’t be better as the prissy, faultlessly nice Azriaphale. Without them, Good Omens might have fallen apart, as it has so much going on and so many characters to juggle, but the focus on the characters mean it is, at its heart, a love story between these two unlikely companions whose friendship has lasted since the beginning of time. And they aren’t about to allow something as trivial as the oncoming war between heaven and hell break them apart.
In television terms, Good Omens is like a blend of the best parts of Doctor Who (the whimsicality) with lashings of Supernatural (the subject matter) and Sherlock (the emphasis on a loveable male friendship), It also shares its heightened, comical reality with Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. The pacing might hit a snag now and again and there’s the occasional moment that works better on the page, but on the whole, Good Omens is the best adaptation fans could hope for and the best new British show viewers unfamiliar with the book may be looking for. In short, it’s damn good.
With a cast that could only gather for the end of the world and strong writing and production values, Good Omens is an often hilarious, always imaginative ride. In short, it's damn good.