Amazon Prime’s six-part adaptation by Neil Gaiman of Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, the novel he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett back in 1990 is currently the darling of the binge-streaming world. And for good reason.
The book was an imaginative and humorous take on the what-if team up between an angel and a demon who’d become friends and wanted to avert nothing less than the end of the world. It fused the writing styles of both Gaiman (author of Sandman, American Gods) and Pratchett (the Discworld novels) and filled the various characters, their misadventures, Satanic nuns, witchfinders, witches, prophets, and a hellhound, with the dry humor only two British authors having the collaboration of their life can accomplish.
The movie adaptation had languished in production limbo for decades but by 2011, rumors of a TV series had arose, giving hope to the huge cult following. But by then Pratchett had already been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and soon passed away. Before Pratchett died he had already urged Gaiman to push through with whatever filmic efforts were being put forward in a letter in 2014 that ended with “You have to make it into a TV show because I want to see it before the lights go out.”
At the screening of the world premiere, a hat and a scarf were placed on an empty seat in tribute to Gaiman’s friend and co-author. Here’s our brief review and guide featuring the highlights of each episode with no spoilers other than the points that have already been listed in the synopsis of Amazon Prime itself.
Definitely this mini-series revolves around the unlikely friendship between the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley.
Played respectively by Michael Sheen and David Tennant, the chemistry between the two is undeniable and their top caliber acting brings to life the milieu of how their service to Heaven and Hell resembles a huge bureaucratic setting where they’ve both been on field duty for quite a few years—also because their work infrastructure comes complete with asshole bosses; a smarmy, rule-stickler Gabriel (John Hamm) and a rigid, uncaring Beelzebub (Anna Maxwell Martin), who are both like distant administrators detached from the gritty facts on the field.
Rather than actually being at odds with each other, Aziraphale and Crowley slowly become closer as agents left out on isolated outposts tend to do, expect this one was organically formed over their 6,000 year tour of duty. Gaiman’s script wisely expounds on how their friendship developed and how they both came to decide that neither of them wants the world to end, so we seem them coming together at various points in history after their initial meeting in the Garden of Eden.
The visuals are gorgeous and stunning, so props to director Douglas Mackinnon and cinematographer Gavin Finney and crew. Even just the animated opening sequence is a joy to watch. Fans of the book will be glad to see their favorite characters come to life and play out their arcs—for me the coolest thing was seeing the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse visualized as a modern biker gang, each with a unique ride and color scheme.
The soundtrack is also something to write home about as its packed with songs by Queen, a favorite of the demon Crowley, apparently. And aptly.
There are two major sticking points here that might be inherent to its nature of being a six-hour movie, rather than a longer mini-series of, say, 10 to 12 episodes.
First is how everything seems to sag and be less interesting whenever Aziraphale and Crowley are off-screen, their infectious energy and interactions bring a garnish to everything and you can see why the sprawling plot of the novel was gaining the reputation of being an “unfilmable” book after director Terry Gilliam took a stab at it and passed on the project.
It’s not that the ancillary supporting characters aren’t interesting, it’s that they just seem less fleshed out because of the screen time devoted to the necessary development of the angel/demon duo. One such plot thread is Anathema Device’s (Emerald City’s Adria Arjona), keeper of the only accurate book of prophecies ever written and direct descendant of the prophet Agnes Nutter, who’s struggling to be the best witch she can but at the same time would like to feel that she has a choice in her life rather than just trying to figure out how to best fulfill prophetic events.
Second is an overly faithful reliance to the original text, especially the dialogue, mostly because it’s where the voice of Pratchett has the most humor. Here it takes the form of the narrative voice of God (Frances McDormand), and while it comes off as natural in the book, it presents problems in a visual medium: first, it can be jarring in the first two episodes before you get used to its intrusive meta-ness and very Brit sarcasm; second, it now entails that quite a few of the events must be more told than shown (like how the nature of a Hellhound changes).
As sprawling and beloved as the book is I can’t help but think that there could have been even less characters throughout the series and just developed the arcs of those who were totally necessary.
EPISODE 1: IN THE BEGINNING
There’s a lot of place setting as we meet Aziraphale, currently Angel of the Eastern Gate, and Crowley, the snake who tempts Eve in the Garden of Eden. But then fast forward around 11 years ago, these two immortal beings are sent word that the Anti-Christ will be born and events set into motion so that, when he comes of age, he prophesied End of the World will begin.
When they both decide that they have both gotten really fond of the world and decide to team up so that the Apocalypse doesn’t really happen, by lying to their respective leaders, archangel Gabriel and head demon Beelzebub, about their plan to influence the child so he grows up normal.
We meet the Chattering Order of St. Beryl, a group of Satanic nuns, who receive Crowley’s delivery of the baby Anti-Christ, and we witness the fuck-up of that most soap opera of scenes: the baby switcheroo.
EPISODE 2: THE BOOK
Aziraphale and Crowley realize they’ve been following the wrong boy for years, and their clandestine jobs as the child’s nanny and gardener have been for naught. But where’s the real Anti-Christ at?
We are now introduced to the story of the witch and prophet Agnes Nutter, writer of the only book of actual accurate prophecies and we also get to see how, since Armageddon is just a week away, the summoner (in this version of a postman) brings objects of power to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to signal that they should all meet up and start The Ride. I think Mireille Enos is the coolest personofication of War there is.
Meanwhile the real Anti-Christ, Adam Young (Sam Taylor Buck), is already starting to come into his powers, hearing voices when he dreams and manifesting weird miracles around him, especially after he meets Anathema Device, Agnes Nutter’s descendant.
The young Amma Ris as the outspoken and sharp Pepper of Adam’s barkada gives a great performance.
Episodes 1 and 2, I think, are the weakest as they try to set up as many things as they can in this sprawling ensemble plot.
EPISODE 3: HARD TIMES
Aziraphale and Crowley across the ages and how they become cross-over BFFs. From Noah’s Ark, the Crucifixion of Jesus, King Arthur, the French Revolution, and even World War II. But likely the most interesting scenes is the one with Shakespeare in it.
Having used Agnes Nutter’s book to locate Adam, both Aziraphale and Crowley separately send the Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell (Better Call Saul’s Michael McKean) to find Adam. It’s here that Aziraphale also tries to tell Gabriel about the Antichrist clusterfuck, but he doesn’t care since Heaven and Hell will still get to have their big war even if they’ve been monitoring the wrong kid.
For my money the best-craft episode next to the finale.
EPISODE 4: SATURDAY MORNING FUN TIME
It’s reckoning day for Aziraphale and Crowley as their bosses (and the demonic horde and angelic host) catch up with them, charging them both for consorting with the other side. Meanwhile, Adam the Antichrist’s powers wreak havoc across the globe and since he’s the Prince of the World anything he thinks about comes to pass as events in reality—a Kraken he’d read about in a conspiracy magazine suddenly attacks Japanese whaling ships.
God talks the audience through ye olde theological question: “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” so that we’re all briefed on the nature and powers of demons and angels, which will come into play later in the episode.
EPISODE 5: THE DOOMSDAY OPTION
It’s the day of the Apocalype and Aziraphale and Crowley now know that they must race towards Tadfield airbase, not the plains of Megiddo, where they have the wrong kid. But Aziaphale isn’t completely in the real world and Crowley having made a Satanic sigil out of the London outskirts’ highway has just become a huge hassle.
Adam’s posse of kids and the Four Horsemen (by the by, Pollution is played by Filipina actor Lourdes Faberes) are also going there to jumpstart the end of all things, but for different reasons. Even if they defeat the Horsemen, the angels and demons still want to get their Apocalypse on and Gabriel complains, telling Beelzebub to “imagine how hard it will be get 10,000 angels off of a war footing?!”
EPISODE 6: THE VERY LAST DAY OF THE REST OF THEIR LIVES
It might just be the end of the world. And also if they survive what comes after, since both Aziraphale and Crowley are both traitors to their sides. How will they escape their judgement? Is that the best twist of an ending in TV today?
As the credits roll we are treated to Tori Amos’s rendition of the Vera Lynn classic “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” and we’ll forgive you the indulgence if you’ll want to open a wine bottle and raise a toast “To the world.”
All photos courtesy of Amazon Prime
What are your thoughts on this adaptation? Tell us below!