The track record of adaptations of material from Neil Gaiman has always been iffy at best. You never know if you’re going to get a delightful Coraline (2009) or a meandering mess of a TV show courtesy of Starz’s American Gods. Good Omens is Amazon’s adaptation of the 1990 novel by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett that hews closely to Gaiman’s vision of farcical biblical shenanigans, the main plot involving demon Crowley (David Tennant) and angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) as frenemies throughout the ages.
They have a pretty good arrangement going on: neither interferes too much in the other’s affairs, leaving the duo to enjoy the simple pleasures of life on Earth until the birth of the antichrist threatens to put an end to their good times. The duo concoct a plan to carefully balance the good and evil influences on the child in a bid to thwart the end times, but things are complicated when a mix-up occurs, leaving the son of Satan in the hands of an unassuming couple who raise the unaware Adam (Sam Taylor Buck) in a quiet, picturesque English village.
As if dealing with the bureaucracies of Heaven and Hell (including the archangel Gabriel, played by Jon Hamm, reimagined as a middle-management type) wasn’t enough, there’s an entire B plot concerning the descendants of a witch and witch-hunter. Good witch Anathema Device (Adria Arjona), armed with her ancestor’s spot-on prophecies, aims to deal with the antichrist herself while nebbish Newton Pulsifer (Jack Whitehall) reluctantly embraces his destiny to hunt her down in the meantime.
Adapted as a miniseries, Good Omens feels stretched at its six-hour runtime when it probably would have been better off as a two-hour movie. There’s a lot of meandering and it feels very unfocused until, at the very end, the multiple storylines seem to careen into each other like a multiple car crash in order to get to wham-bam finale complete with dodgy CGI and a biker-clad Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Where Good Omens spends its time and focus is odd, perfectly exemplified by one episode that spends all its time in flashbacks for the sake of showing off Tennant and Sheen in as many period costumes.
It’s a good thing at the very least that the friendship between Aziraphale and Crowley is consistently enjoyable. As the anchor of Good Omens, it’s fun to watch the two play off each other, although Tennant’s Crowley comes across as somewhat neutered. For what should be a gleefully mischievous being, the role demands Tennant do a lot of swaggering and cynical sneering more than anything else. He causes chaos out of grudging obligation rather than delighting in it, leaving the potential fun uncapitalized on.
Sheen’s self-righteous, high maintenance angel Aziraphale is still the perfect foil, who naggingly insists that everything be done by the book. The two play off each other well, and without the two performances, there wouldn’t be very much to recommend Good Omens. All the other characters are extraneous, distractions from the blossoming friendship between angel and demon. Adam, the antichrist and supposed main driver of the whole plot, has about the shoddiest character arc you could imagine with a turn that doesn’t feel like a natural progression at all. Again, it’s a detour to that nutty finale where everything comes together in the end because it has to.
Good Omens also leans on the novelty of its concept a bit too much. It’s not the first work to take a tongue-in-cheek approach to biblical lore, but it’s so smug about it, as if it thought of the idea first so much that its attempts at whimsy can come across as off-putting. Not that there aren’t some genuinely funny moments, it’s just that Good Omens can go overboard in its attempts to be whimsical and overkill narration (courtesy of Frances McDormand as God herself). It’s all very Neil Gaiman-y.
In many ways, Good Omens is truth-in-advertising. It’s a droll, whimsical take on biblical lore anchored by two good central performances (but maybe shy of great) and it has a consistent tone and vision that some of the other Neil Gaiman adaptations lack. During its six-episode run, it’s curiously overstuffed and underdeveloped at the same time. Too much is going on and, yet, there’s so much downtime between things of consequence happening. It’s an imperfect, albeit watchable adaptation that probably would have benefited from either being expanded into a full series or condensed into a movie that focused solely on its two supernatural frontmen.