Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Good Omens ★★★☆☆

If Good Omens is going to get any awards, it’s surely for the marketing team. Not because the marketing itself was particularly imaginative or hype-building, but because for a time, it felt like you couldn’t go anywhere or do anything without having David Tennant and Michael Sheen’s mugs staring at you. This thing was everywhere – buses, TV, billboards, websites, before almost any YouTube video…It was exhausting. When it came to actually watching the bloody thing, I was already sick of it.

The miniseries, based on the 1990 novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman and the late Terry Pratchett, the six-episode adaptation is a co-production between BBC and Amazon Studios – with the BBC giving it some real pedigree. Initially launched on Amazon Prime, the series is also scheduled to be run on BBC Two before the end of the year, which is rare for a streaming platform programme. Sure, it happens – Better Call Saul launching on AMC and Netflix simultaneously – but there’s rarely a gap between. Whether the viewing figures will be particularly strong on BBC months after the online release remains to be seen, but with the DVD and Blu-ray coming out, it’s time to revisit this wildly original and yet downright underwhelming series.

For those who haven’t read the book, Good Omens is basically a buddy comedy. Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) is a fussy angel. Crowley (David Tennant) is a loose-living demon. They’ve both been on Earth for over 6,000 years. During that time they’ve grown quite fond of it, and, against all odds, each other. We follow Aziraphale and Crowley as they join forces in an attempt to find an 11-year-old Antichrist (and his dog) and avert the looming Apocalypse. For fans of the book – I, alas, am not one – the series is seemingly a faithful adaptation of the source. But for those who have never been able to understand the Pratchett appeal, the series is just uncomfortably quirky to a point that makes it near unwatchable.

Performance-wise, the series thrives mainly off the back of Michael Sheen who puts in a delightful performance as the charming Aziraphale, who owns an antiquarian bookshop in London and enjoys a quiet, simple life. David Tennant, on the other hand, plays David Tennant. You’re very aware that you are watching Tennant throughout who never really sinks into the role, which is a disappointment considering the opportunities one could have with playing a rockstar demon. Other cast members include US stars Jon Hamm, Nick Offerman and Frances McDormand who – in a remarkable bit of casting – narrates the series as God. But this is a Sheen and Tennant show through and through, and with one of the pair not rising to the challenge, the series suffers as a result.

Production values are solid and the direction from Douglas Mackinnon – frequent Doctor Who director and the man behind Sherlock’s Abominable Bride special – is fine, but for me, my enjoyment hinged entirely on whether I enjoyed the premise and the style of the series. As a Pratchett and Gaiman non-fan, I just didn’t get it. The jokes didn’t land and the style lost me. But this isn’t a criticism of the show, I am just the wrong audience for it. I’m not going to rip it to shreds when at its core it is a solid adaptation of its source which counts a great many people among its fans.

What I can praise as an outsider to the Good Omens lore is Michael Sheen’s charming performance and a general feeling of quality throughout, both visually and behind the scenes. Adapted by Neil Gaiman who acts as the series showrunner, this is certainly a faithful telling of the tale for fans who have enjoyed the written adventures of Aziraphale and Crowley, so if you’re among that group then I’m sure you’ll have a super-duper time. But if you’ve never been able to understand the appeal of this sort of comedy, then you are certainly not going to be converted here. 

Sam Love

Good Omens at CeX

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