Aziraphale (Michael Sheen), Crowley (David Tennant), and Gabriel (Jon Hamm) in 'Good Omens' season 2

Neil Gaiman Explains Why Those ‘Good Omens’ Season 2 Subtitles Are So Bad

Those who watched Good Omens season 2 with subtitles on, like I did, may have noticed that the captions frequently didn’t match up to what the characters were saying on screen. I’ll grant that some of the mistakes were reasonably funny out of context (“poultry humans” instead of “paltry humans,” for example) but it’s still frustrating. Who wants to watch a touching love story without getting to make note of all the finer details? Twitter users feel the same way, and have made notes and taken screenshots of some of the worst offenders.

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This article includes minor spoilers for Good Omens season 2.

Fans have contacted Neil Gaiman directly—he always makes himself available to fans on social media, which is nice—and asked him what on earth went wrong. You might have been able to guess the answer: it’s because of the writers’ strike and the continuous failure of studios to pay people for their work. Here’s what Gaiman had to say in a Tumblr post dated July 30:

This probably happened because I’m on strike. On S1 I checked the closed captions that the BBC made and I checked the scripts that went out to foreign countries to be dubbed or subbed. For S2, Amazon did that stuff directly, and I was on strike and unable to do a final check and correct it.

Having said that, whoever does the captions is meant to refer to the scripts, so I don’t understand why they were so off. I feel guilty, because it shouldn’t have happened: it’s not fair on the hard of hearing or anyone relying on the closed captions for aid. Nobody relying on the closed captions knows about Mrs Sandwich’s hatpin, for example, or knows that Shax brought Crowley’s mail to the bookshop, or that the first Doctor Who Annual was cover-dated 1966.

I very much hope it will be corrected soon.

AI can create subtitles now, sort of

Some have speculated that it was an AI rather than a human which wrote the subtitles for the show, hence all the mistakes. (Reportedly, Netflix is already doing this with its own content, and it doesn’t seem to be going well.) If so, this whole debacle further demonstrates that AI is nothing without an actual human person involved, and also that accessibility for the deaf and hard of hearing is rather low on Amazon’s priorities. Either way, Amazon hasn’t commented on the issue so far.

Gaiman—who is very much still on strike, and happy to explain to trolls the reasons why—is apparently working to correct the problem. A fan contacted him on August 2 to explain their frustration with the “jarring” subtitle mistakes and Gaiman replied:

You have no idea how bad the subtitles are. I, who knows what the characters were actually saying and how far the subtitles often were from the words said, can promise cheerfully it’s worse than you think.

If I hadn’t been on strike I would have seen the closed captions and fixed them. I am on strike and I’m sorry to all the people who use or rely on the captions.

I understand that Amazon are getting it fixed and that our producer, Sarah-Kate Fenelon, is going to be actually going through them against the scripts. And then the changes will go up.

Hopefully the people of Good Omens will cease to be poultry after that.

(featured image: Prime Video)


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Author
Sarah Barrett
Sarah Barrett (she/her) is a freelance writer with The Mary Sue who has been working in journalism since 2014. She loves to write about movies, even the bad ones. (Especially the bad ones.) The Raimi Spider-Man trilogy and the Star Wars prequels changed her life in many interesting ways. She lives in one of the very, very few good parts of England.