REVIEW: Good Omens (2019)

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“All tapes left in a car for more than about a fortnight metamorphose into Best of Queen albums.”

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman (1990)

I think it is safe to say that I have been waiting for an adaptation of Good Omens, or more specifically, Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch for more than twenty years. Early on in this waiting period it was announced that Terry Gilliam, brilliant auteur and Monty Python alumnus, was attached to direct. Given this news I was hopeful, but wary. He certainly had the ideal voice for the material, but given his track record and the film system’s lack of faith in him, I knew it was probably a pipedream.

Time passed and a statement was made that Terry Gilliam had figured out how to film Terry Pratchett’s famous footnotes. And then time passed. All I can say is that when it was announced that one of my top three desert island books was heading into production for Amazon Prime, my response was “I will believe it when I see it.”

Well, I’ve seen it. I also believe it.

I used to tell a friend of mine that if there ever was an adaptation of the book that my favorite gag regarding cassette tapes left in cars was to be left intact. In fact, it was a main criteria for enjoying it. Queen is in the soundtrack, I am happy to say. Given the decades that have passed and cassette tapes are not likely going to be used in expensive vintage Bentley automobiles these days, let’s just say I greatly enjoyed the series anyway.

A quick disclaimer: I am much more well versed with the author Terry Pratchett than I am with Neil Gaiman. I did read swaths of Gaiman’s Sandman comics in the nineties. Realistically, however, I was more immersed in Terry Pratchett’s vast Discworld series, so if I neglect to talk about Neil as much as Terry, that would be the reason why.

Good Omens begins at the beginning of the world, and ends at the, er… It ends at the end. In the beginning, Adam and Eve are cast out of the Garden of Eden. Arizaphale (Michael Sheen), angel and guardian of the gate of the garden, watches in worry as Adam and Eve are wandering out alone. Arizaphale is soon joined by a serpent who takes the form of fallen angel named Crawley (David Tennant). As one angel spreads his white wings and the other, snake-eyed demon spreads his black wings a charming tit-for-tat begins that carries down through the centuries.

An angel and a demon, the unlikeliest of friendships, but as the story unfolds it is quite clear they need each other. Even love each other in their own way. They both hate their jobs, divinity is surprisingly too bureaucratic for them. If they do too good of a job or if they muck things up, it amounts to too much paperwork. Besides, they actually like Earth and the people in it. When word comes down that the Apocalypse is about to begin, the two decide they will do what they can to stop it.

Good Omens begins as a riff on the horror film The Omen and then playfully begins to tick down through the events of The Book of Revelations. Mix ups, mishaps and mayhem begins to ensue. Much like the bulk of Terry Pratchett’s work, the scenarios are allowed to blossom along with a multitude of characters along the way. He often lets the events take their time as each one begins to pile upon each other. Good Omens is no different and six episodes seems to be an appropriate length to allow each beat to happen at its own time. At the heart, however, is the friendship between Arizaphale and Crawley (now Crowley). There could not be better casting than Michael Sheen and David Tennant. The two play off of each other so successfully that the chemistry is palpable and in some ways they become inseparable to the characters they are portraying.

A few years back it was announced that Terry Pratchett had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Shortly after he was gone. Any death is a sad one for me, but celebrity deaths never really impacted me. Few have and Pratchett was one of them. He had passed away in 2015. Neil Gaiman had said about Terry…

Terry’s authorial voice is always Terry’s: genial, informed, sensible, drily amused. I suppose that, if you look quickly and are not paying attention, you might, perhaps, mistake it for jolly. But beneath any jollity there is a foundation of fury. Terry Pratchett is not one to go gentle into any night, good or otherwise.

Source: Neil Gaiman ‘Terry Pratchett isn’t jolly, he’s angry.’

Gaiman had written the teleplay for the Good Omens series. It was Terry Pratchett’s last request that Neil finish Good Omens because “He wanted to watch it.” And I am happy to report that the miniseries is as much of a love letter as it could be. I know that there are some out there that view their personal fandom as some sort of personality trait. I am sure that there will be some that will not like the changes that were made. Books do not behave the same way as film or television. If changes are made, who cares as long as its good? It’s been a long enough time that a lot of the changes weren’t noticed. If anything, things were expanded. It feels as if every important beat of the novel was covered. For those not familiar with the source material I suppose your miles will vary in perhaps greater portions. The pacing is slow, the humor is lighthearted. Some may find it meandering. I’ve read one review on Rotten Tomatoes that complained that there wasn’t enough special effects. While that makes me angry just writing that last sentence, I suppose that’s where we are.

When I revived Rude Planet, my goal was to make sure that when I reviewed something that I kept my presence to more of a minimum. The last thing I want to read in a review or article is about the reviewer’s life bullshit or try to make the reader as excited as they are. There are going to be exceptions and a long personal review regarding something like Good Omens is going to be an exception. As a writer, Omens was a novel of worthy of admiration to me. As a series it made me happy as it very much was a love letter. It has a great cast, Neil Gaiman did a great job of finding the right words and director Douglas Mackinnon did a fine job giving it life. The biggest revelation, however, was the chemistry between Tennant and Sheen. It has been noted that this is listed as ‘Season One’. I do not want another season, but I do hope that we have the chance to see Tennant and Sheen together in something else.

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REVIEW: Good Omens (2019)

by Matthew Reel time to read: 5 min