The End Times have arrived. The world is counting down to destruction and the legions of hell and heaven are massing their armies. The demon Crowley and angel Aziraphale are old enemies, so old they're also actually good friends. Faced with the annihilation of humanity and the end of their cushy life of teas at the Ritz and long drives in Crowley's Bentley, they make a pact to help avert the apocalypse and let the human race survive. The problem is that there's been a bit of a mix-up with the Antichrist and now no-one knows where he is. Fortunately, one woman knows exactly what's going on. Less fortunately, she died in the 17th Century.
Good Omens is a six-part television adaptation of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's 1990 novel of the same name. The history of getting the novel to the screen is itself epic, with Terry Gilliam trying for years to develop it for both film and TV before giving up. Unfortunately, it took the untimely and far-too-early death of Sir Terry in 2015 to spur the project forwards and finally get it made. Neil Gaiman himself wrote the script, updating it for the modern day, removing elements from the book that didn't work (or were too expensive) and introducing new scenes to make the story work better on screen.
At the heart of Good Omens is the relationship between Aziraphale and Crowley, played to note perfection by Michael Sheen (Masters of Sex, Twilight) and David Tennant (Doctor Who). This relationship is the fulcrum around which the show revolves and it is excellently handled throughout, with the two characters engaging in both humorous banter, mutual support and affectionate sniping at one another like an old married couple. The series highlight is the opening of the third episode, which dedicates a full half of its runtime to exploring the characters' backstory and relationship across six thousand years of human history. Sheen and Tennant's chemistry is palpable and a constant delight.
This relationship is central to the show's success, but it can also feel like a crutch. The other performances are also mostly excellent, but the characterisation feels flatter. Some of this is inherited from the book, such as the feeling that Anathema Device (Adria Arjona) and Newton Pulsifer (Jack Whitehall) should really be the protagonists but the writers realised the demon/angel conflict was far more interesting and pivoted to focus on them. Anathema and Newton remain somewhat underdeveloped on TV as well, despite the best efforts of the actors to make them work, which is an issue when they play a vital role in the resolution of the story. Similarly, the young gang of children feel undercooked as well. Ideally we'd get a Stranger Things vibe going on with them but instead their storyline comes across as bland.
Another slight misstep is the presence of God as the narrator, voiced by Frances McDormand. In some scenes this is effective, but in too many others it's incongruous, over-explaining jokes that don't need explaining or dragging scenes out far too long. Having God explain how the babies get mixed up is an odd choice when we can visually see what's going on and it doesn't need expansion. Good Omens has occasionally been criticised for being a bit too Douglas Adams-like in tone and voice, and the narrator doing the same job as the Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy (but with far less in-universe justification) certainly contributes to that feeling. The pacing feels like it could be either a little tighter or a little looser. At four or five hours the end-of-the-world countdown tension would have been stronger, but the story would have needed to have been cut a lot more; at nine or ten we've have had more time to develop the secondary characters. But at six hours, enough to polish off in a couple of evenings, it's hard to complain.
Fortunately, everything else is pretty much on fire. Nick Offerman and Jon Hamm do a huge amount with small roles, and the production design, visual effects and location filming are all superb. There's a joy in the attention to detail as the centuries roll by and the protagonists' fashions change only moderately. Most of the jokes land on screen as well as they did in print, and there is a sense of enjoyment from seeing something so quintessentially British (occasionally veering towards tweeness, but being intercepted before it gets there) being rolled out for the entire world on a massive budget and being handled so well.
Good Omens (****) certainly isn't a flawless adaptation, but it is fun, doesn't outstay its welcome and its lead performances are for the ages, even if the rest of the characters sometimes struggle to keep up. It is available to watch now on Amazon Prime.