David Tennant and Michael Sheen are the Best Part of the Uneven Good Omens Miniseries
3/5 sherbet lemons.
There’s a lot to like about Amazon and the BBC’s co-production of Good Omens. The six-episode miniseries is based on the 1990 novel Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, and stars Michael Sheen and David Tennant as angel and demon frenemies who must work together to avoid the impending apocalypse.
Sheen’s fussy anxious angel Aziraphale and Tennant’s slick sardonic demon Crowley make for a terrific odd couple, and the comedic chemistry (that may not solely be comedic – shippers get ready) between the two is by far the best part of the series. Unfortunately, it’s everything else that’s the problem. Good Omens struggles with pacing issues and an overstuffed plot that makes the first two episodes a drag.
The series, which was adapted by Gaiman himself, struggles to winnow out the extraneous plot points when it should be leaning into Sheen and Tennant’s dynamic. It suffers from being overwritten, which is glaringly apparent in Frances McDormand’s narration as the voice of God. McDormand is one of the best actors of her generation, but she is woefully miscast as she churns through monologue after monologue, over-explaining everything to the audience.
Given the essential Englishness of the series and the writing, the narration would have benefited from a British comedic voice like Stephen Fry or Emma Thompson. The series also suffers from some distractingly bad CGI and an overabundance of characters and side plots. There’s the young Antichrist Adam (Sam Taylor Buck), who is placed with the wrong family in the first episode. There are his band of precocious friends, the forces of Heaven and Hell, and the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
There’s also Anathema Device (Adria Arjona) a witchy descendant of Nutter’s and Newton Pulsifer (Jack Whitehall) the descendant of the witchfinders who burned Nutter at the stake. Pulsifer is trained by Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell (Michael McKean) who lives next door to psychic medium/dominatrix Madame Tracy (a wasted Miranda Richardson). It’s a dizzying amount of supporting players, none of whom enjoy enough screentime to make much of an impression. The one standout is Jon Hamm’s angel Gabriel, a smarmy celestial bureaucrat who is eager to start the apocalypse.
But all those issues are easily forgotten when Sheen and Tennant take center stage. It isn’t until episode three that the series hits its stride, starting with a 30 minute cold open that follows Crowley and Aziraphale throughout the ages, as they discover that they are more alike than they realize. Eventually the duo reach an agreement when they realize that their earthly deeds essentially cancel each other out. The duo’s banter is delightful, but there is genuine heart and emotion at the core of their friendship. They may be working for opposite sides, but they are clearly kindred spirits who love each other deeply.
Adaptations are tricky. There’s a lot that can go wrong when you try to turn a beloved book into a compelling film or television series. Fan favorite scenes invariably end up on the cutting room floor, and jokes that kill in text lose their humor when spoken out loud. Many book adaptations have struggled to express their signature style in a new medium. The one I always think of are the adaptations of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which struggle to translate the book’s signature weirdness.
Good Omens suffers from the same issue, but thankfully there’s enough wit and warmth in Tennant and Sheen to make the series an enjoyable watch.
Have you watched Good Omens? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
(image: Amazon Studios)
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