Good Omens streams on May 31. The six-episode miniseries, based on a 1990 comic fantasy novel by Neil Gaiman and the late Terry Pratchett, is an irreverent tale of angelic intrigue about servants of heaven and hell minding their own business on Earth during a celestial cold war. Devilishly funny in places while cosily meandering in others, the series earns its wings thanks to the heavenly double act of Tennant and Sheen.
Sheen’s prim seraphim and Tennant’s cocky devil are mobilized to bring about the apocalypse when the antichrist is born in contemporary England — except an admin error by satanic nuns delivers the bringer of darkness to the wrong family. Now who knows if the world will end on time?
Angel and demon join forces as a motley collection of angels, devils and witches seek out the erstwhile antichrist. Highlights of the freewheeling comedy that follows include surreal animated asides about angels dancing on the head of a pin, a witch hurrying along her own burning, and the sight of Tennant just generally striding about like he owns the place.
As the show romps through human history from the Garden of Eden to the Swinging Sixties, Tennant steals the show as slinky demon Crowley. A snake-hipped combination of Bill Nighy and Keith Richards, the former Doctor Who gives it some serpentine oomph whether he’s sinking into the depths of demonic despair, engulfed by flame or dressing up as a Mary Poppins-style nanny — practically perfidious in every way.
This louche Lucifer has adapted well to the modern world, crashing mobile networks and diverting motorways into the shape of demonic sigils, and he begins to think armageddon might not be such a great idea after all. Sheen’s nervy angel Aziraphale shares Crowley’s concerns: He loves sushi and rare books, and can’t understand why heaven is so keen to go to war. Sheen’s Aziraphale is a less showy part than Tennant’s Crowley, but the unfailingly decent angel is the gentle heart of the story.
Pratchett and Gaiman’s 1990 novel mirrored the images of its much loved authors in the lead characters of gentle Aziraphale and black-clad Crowley, and in its cheery turn of phrase underpinned with a streak of jet-black humor. With the average goth’s favorite scribe Gaiman writing the TV adaptation, you might think it leans toward the darker tone. But if anything, it could be darker. While blackly comic in places, Amazon’s Good Omens feels downright cosy compared with, say, the outrageous treatment of similar metaphysical subjects in.
A love of language shines through the masterful writing of both Gaiman and Pratchett. Unfortunately, the TV adaptation clings to the book’s text, translating it into a clunky and intrusive voiceover. Look, I’ve loved the novel and its delightful wordplay from the moment I first read it as a teenager. But television is a visual medium, and the wordplay-based jokes that can only be done in a voiceover, as amusing as they are, don’t make up for the constant interruption by momentum-killing explanation.
The voiceover is just one of the things that makes the show feel kinda slow. The music and editing and a few narrative choices contribute to a general lack of urgency: considering the show is literally counting down to the end of the world, it’s bizarre there’s so little sense of impending doom.
The main problem is that we’re way ahead of the characters in their quest. We know where the antichrist is, which makes the other characters’ investigations and revelations feel a bit meandering. And when we do reach the end of the countdown, it’s a bit of an antichrist anticlimax.
Apart from that, though, the cast is rounded out by familiar faces injecting some energy into even the smallest part. Michael McKean manages to find pathos under a wildly veering Scottish accent, Jon Hamm brings glossy-eyed cynicism to the blandly self-righteous angel Gabriel, and Mireille Enos gleefully vamps it up as one of the four motorcyclists of the apocalypse. But most of all there’s Sheen and Tennant, bouncing Pratchett and Gaiman’s words off each other beautifully.
Irreverent and cheekily amoral, Good Omens can be slow in places, but two divine central performances make it a heavenly good time.