Good Omens Review: Neil Gaiman Conjures Up A Lightweight Apocalypse

David Tennant and Michael Sheen in Good Omens Amazon

Amazon Prime's adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s novel Good Omens is set to be one of the biggest summer offerings from the streamer, and a sign of things to come as far as content is concerned. The service is pushing forward with a mandate to deliver more and more blockbuster programs (i.e., Game of Thrones-level series) that slant more toward genre. As one of the first to potentially fit that bill, the lighthearted comedy about an angel and a demon, the war between Heaven and Hell, and the Antichrist and his attendant apocalypse, is something of a mixed bag. 

Those who’ve read Gaiman and Pratchett’s novel will know that the series is as lighthearted a telling of the end of days as such a story can get. The book leans heavily on the absurd side of its comedic stylings, and given than Gaiman wrote the adaptation and served as showrunner on the six-episode series, it should come as no surprise that Good Omens the limited series also skews toward absurdity. On one hand, that plays to the series' strengths in terms of the story it’s trying to tell, one narrated by Frances McDormand as God, and portrays Heaven and Hell as hawkish bureaucratic nightmares. But it also includes bumbling witch hunters, a hellhound, random alien visitations, the appearance of the sea monster known as the Kraken, and the M25 motorway bursting into flames. The advantage this approach affords the series is one of free-wheeling silliness, a tale where anything can and (almost) does happen, and where, provided the viewer is along for the ride, nothing much matters because it was all just a fun little goof anyway. 

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The idea of sitting through a six-hour lark about the Antichrist, his faithful dog, and end of the world is made more appealing by the cast the series has lined up, mainly David Tennant and Michael Sheen, as the demon Crowley and the angel Aziraphale, respectively. The two are ostensibly the keepers of the Earth; they’ve been around from the very beginning, with the specific job of tempting humanity into doing evil, or coaxing them toward good. Crowley’s enjoyed early success on his end by playing the serpent in the Garden of Eden (and we all know how that turned out), an act that set in motion a chain of events that, thousands of years later, would result in the Antichrist being born and, you know, bringing about the final war between Heaven and Hell. 

But after Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, something unexpected happened: Crowley and Aziraphale became friends. The unlikely friendship between a sunglasses-wearing bad boy and an effete bookworm is the heart and soul of the story and the most compelling thing about the series itself. The problem is, there just isn’t enough of it. 

Looking at Good Omens, one might think that six hours is more than enough time to tell this particular story, and it is. In fact, given how little story there actually is, it’s probably too much time. This creates an issue for Gaiman’s adaptation, in that it’s frequently compelled to switch between the many characters in its sizable ensemble cast and offer a different perspective on the looming end times. And while that means making use of terrific actors like Jon Hamm as the Archangel Gabriel, Michael McKean as Witchfinder Shadwell (a role that finds him doing a truly ridiculous Scottish accent), and Miranda Richardson as Madame Tracey, a “jezebel” with eyes for the inept Witchfinder, their subplots are questionably necessary, and not nearly as compelling as watching Crowley and Aziraphale try to prevent the apocalypse. 

Good Omens' biggest stumbling block is perhaps a subplot about Anathema Device (Adria Arjona) a witch descended from a powerful prognosticator who foresaw centuries worth of future events and jotted them down in a handy tome that essentially serves as a roadmap for saving the world. Joining her is Jack Whitehall as Newton Pulsifer, a fledgling Witchfinder whose family history is also tied up in his current occupation. Along with Adam Young (Sam Taylor Buck), aka the Antichrist, Anathema and Newton seem only to derail the narrative whenever they’re on screen. The characters are wafer thin and, aside from Adam, their impact on the story is nominal. Worse yet, Anathema’s ancestor’s book ostensibly removes any sense of agency in her character, and while that later factors in to the conclusion of her story arc, the critical drawbacks of her and Newton’s characters persist throughout. 

Though it is often scatterbrained and too much of its very basic plot is spread too thin across an unnecessarily large cast of characters, Good Omens at least manages to stay consistent with regard to its tone. Keeping things light to the point of absurdity works in the series’ favor, as what might otherwise come across as deficiencies in attention come across more like gleeful asides. The degree to which the series is dedicated to its sense of whimsy is admirable, even when it means characters or entire plot lines get short shrift, largely for the sake of including one more strange occurrence or encounter that falsely gives the impression there’s more going on that there actually is.  

In the end, Gaiman and director Douglas Mackinnon do their best to tie up the various distractions and asides littered throughout the previous five and some odd hours of plot. That the series ultimately doesn’t come together in a fulfilling fashion isn’t much of a surprise considering how much of the story feels as though it’s comprised of little more than loosely connected tangents. Still, Tennant and Sheen are incredibly engaging, whether on screen together or not, and Hamm seems to be enjoying himself immensely. That level of energy is palpable, and helps mitigate the feeling that Good Omens, while being occasionally a good time, is mostly a mixed bag. 

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Good Omens will stream exclusively on Amazon Prime Video beginning Friday, May 31.

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