I wasn’t going to do this. I mentioned this book way back during the Terry Pratchett spotlight, and that was going to be it, even though it’s one of my favourite books of all time. It’s not as if it needs my recommending it, I’m sure 99% of you have already read it anyway. But then the TV adaptation was released a month ago, and here we are because it’s amazing and I love it.
So what did I say about it in the past?
My favourite non-Discworld work is without question Good Omens, co-written with Neil Gaiman, which almost got a full post to itself. Whilst I do enjoy Mr Gaiman’s works, he’s probably not going to feature here again, but Good Omens is a work of genius. I can’t really talk about it too much without giving away the plot, but the short version is that an angel and a demon team up to try and stop the Apocalypse because they quite like Earth. Featuring the Antichrist, the Four Horsemen, dire prophecies and all the old classics, and I guarantee none of them are what you’d expect.
A television series is currently in development, hopefully coming out on Amazon later this year. I am very excited about this. There’s also a very good BBC radio adaptation.
Well, that’s all very true. Let’s go a little further now. Just in case there somehow is anyone reading this who hasn’t read it, I’m not going to go into too much detail about the plot.
[Before Loten gets too far into a plot overview, I think it’s also worth doing a quick thematic one. Good Omens has a few things at its core: a silly comedy of errors, a well-deserved parody of Christian eschatology, a fundamentally humanistic message, and (depending on your goggles) a story about deep friendship or gay romance. None of these things are particularly surprising if you know anything about the authors, really, but it’s worth pointing them out nonetheless. I do think the humanism is an important aspect of the story and one I don’t see discussed as much; it’s also not a religion-antagonistic humanism, so even if you’re not an atheist, give the story a chance, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.]
Our joint protagonists are the demon Crowley and the angel Aziraphale. They both live on Earth and follow the orders of their respective superiors, tempting and blessing humans at various points, ostensibly opposing one another and trying to win souls to their side. In reality they first met in the Garden of Eden, they’ve known one another for six thousand years or so, they realised a long time ago that they have more in common with one another – and with humanity – than with their fellows, and would much rather be left alone to enjoy life.
Then Crowley is handed the baby Antichrist and ordered to kick off the end of the world. Both Heaven and Hell are very keen that this should happen because they want to fight each other and are of course each convinced that their side will win. Crowley and Aziraphale would really rather not, thank you, and decide to help bring up the Son of Satan with a more balanced view of the world in the hope that he’ll decide not to destroy it when he comes into his power.
Of course it doesn’t work the way they planned – human error is a far stronger force than any divine power – and eleven years later they find themselves racing to try and avert the apocalypse with no idea of what’s going on and with their own teams trying to stop them. The rest of the cast include the Four Horsemen, the descendant of the last witch in England (who foresaw all this), the last witch-finders in England, a few people in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the Antichrist himself.
It’s a fantastic book. It’s funny the whole way through, the drama moves at a good pace and the characters are wonderful. And the recent Amazon Prime adaptation is easily the best TV adaptation I’ve ever seen.
It ought to be, really, since it was written by Neil Gaiman and co-produced by him and Rob Wilkins on behalf of Terry Pratchett. Getting Good Omens to the screen was one of Pratchett’s last requests and nobody’s been allowed to mess with it too much, and it’s obvious that everyone involved loved what they were doing. (I’ve seen a few reviews complaining that it’s too faithful to the book, which confuses me since to my mind the point of adapting a book is to transfer the book to the shiny screen, not to retell it in the process.)
There are some additions, particularly Aziraphale’s superiors in Heaven, who were taken from the sequel that was sadly never written. There’s additional material covering more of Crowley and Aziraphale’s history and an ending dealing with the consequences of their defiance. Sadly some things were cut – the Other Four Horsemen just didn’t have time to ride out, and the Antichrist himself has reduced screen time apparently because of the regulations around child actors. Almost all the jokes made it in, even if some of them wouldn’t be noticeable to someone who hadn’t read the book.
[I do think there were a few things that didn’t quite work well in adaptation, and some of the things that were cut (like the bikers) really were an unfortunate loss because that was one of my favourite moments in the book, but it’s still damn good and one of the best book adaptations I’ve seen in a long time. I do think that people unfamiliar with the source material might struggle to understand (or just miss) some things, or be confused why some jokes or plotlines are getting focus relative to others. Also, YMMV as to whether all of the jokes land: in order to preserve the wordplay and jokes that only work verbally, they chose to have the series be narrated by the Voice of God. That allowed them to get a lot of things in that couldn’t have worked otherwise, but it can feel a bit pedantic at times (I didn’t mind it at all the first time through, but it can grate a little on repeat viewing).]
The casting is absolutely superb. David Tennant is Crowley, completely. I wasn’t sure about Michael Sheen as Aziraphale when it was announced but the first trailer sold me immediately. Ned Dennehy as Hastur nearly stole the show [he absolutely did for me] and almost everyone else was spot on, with some cameos that probably escaped most non-British viewers.
[There are some other things worth discussing about the casting, too. They clearly went out of their way to have a diverse cast both in terms of race and gender, which I did find occasionally jarring, but usually in a good way; it was just such a pleasant surprise to see how committed they were to it. I don’t want to go into too much detail here, but this might be worth discussing further in the comments. Anathema being American was the one we found strangest, but it’s not as though it actually harmed anything.]
And, of course, the show is its own fanfiction. (I wish I could take credit for this line, I can’t remember who said it because I’ve read quite a lot of reviews for this show by now.) It’s really about the relationship between Crowley and Aziraphale, with the apocalypse happening in the background.
The vast majority of the fandom ships them to some extent. Not always sexually, but you know, fandoms gonna fan. The official stance of the writers has always been, more or less, “Well, we didn’t actually intend it that way when we wrote them, but we can see why.” (One reason I love both authors is that they’ve never lashed out or mocked their fans for having different headcanons.) Gaiman decided to lean hard into it and Tennant and Sheen happily played along.
Tor’s review says it all (beware spoilers if you haven’t watched it yet): https://www.tor.com/2019/06/04/the-good-omens-miniseries-is-a-love-story-and-i-will-never-recover-from-it/
I could go on for pages about this, I have a lot of FEELINGS, but I’ll refrain. If you haven’t read the book yet, do it now. If you haven’t seen the show yet it is absolutely worth finally taking that free trial Amazon keeps waving in your face – it will be coming to DVD eventually but it’s more than good enough to justify seeing it as soon as possible. It makes me very happy and I’ve already rewatched it more than once. [So have I.]
As a final addendum, there’s inevitably been some backlash from a lot of very angry Christians who missed the point completely (watched with some bewilderment by a lot of other Christians who possess basic comprehension). Bless their little cotton socks, the group who started a petition to cancel it must be feeling a little silly now after approximately half the population of the internet pointed out that none of the 20,000 frothing balls of blind outrage who signed it had spotted that the petition was aimed at Netflix, rather than Amazon Prime.
Netflix very nicely promised not to make any more.
Amazon offered to cancel Stranger Things if Netflix cancelled Good Omens.
Neil Gaiman just enjoyed watching it happen, as did a lot of other people.
Now go watch the show again.