The very things that have made Sir Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s much-beloved Good Omens such a hit with readers for two decades are also, unfortunately, the things that make it so difficult to adapt, which explains why its taken this long to make it to screen, and why Gaiman is probably the only person who could have managed it. Good Omens is an epic story, told chiefly in small asides, where character moments take precedent over bombast, and where the narrator’s brilliant one-liners are the book’s most memorable moments. It is also shamelessly British in its tone and humour. The TV series, then, is the purest adaptation of Good Omens that we could ever hope to receive.
The six-part mini-series centres on the angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and the demon Crowley (David Tennant) teaming up to prevent the apocalypse when the antichrist arrives on Earth – only to realise that they have muddled up some babies and have been keeping an eye on the wrong antichrist.
The series leans hard into the irreverent tone of the book, touching on all the source material’s weird and seemingly disconnected characters before pulling it all neatly together. The result is probably the most British big-budget series ever made, packed with silliness and slightly shonky special effects (because, frankly, why should a spaceship dreamt up by an 11-year-old antichrist look photo-real?). As a result, some people will ‘get it’, and others simply won’t.
The same, unfortunately, applies to the cast. While some rise to the tongue-in-cheek, campy tone splendidly, others flounder somewhat, taking it either too far or not far enough. A pair of sinister demons never quite work, and the usually brilliant Michael McKeen is miscast as inept witchfinder Shadwell, struggling with both the tone and his accent, while Jack Whitehall’s earnest Newton Pulsifer becomes just a bit wet.
But none of that really matters, because Tennant and, in particular, Sheen are perfectly cast, and the series blossoms into full life whenever the two of them share the screen. Funny and immediately likeable, you’ll be fully invested in their unlikely – and slightly reluctant – friendship long before episode three gives us a wonderful potted history of their shared history on Earth. Sheen proves the long-held adage – that baddies get all the best material – entirely wrong. Tennant might have the sexier role, but it’ll be fussy and nervous Aziraphale that you’re cheering on by the end. The series also handles the usually thorny issue of British child actors with barely a hitch, with antichrist Adam (Sam Taylor Buck) and his friends all doing a darn good job, while Jon Hamm brings buckets of American charm and cynicism to the Angel Gabriel – a celestial being who fundamentally does not understand humanity at all.
The show is occasionally too eager to keep the book’s best lines, often leaving in or extending scenes that should have been cut for pacing, just to keep in some favourite moments from the book, and it probably tried too hard to squeeze in as many famous faces (and voices) as possible. It stumbles in its penultimate episode, losing some momentum going into a finale which isn’t quite as clever as you want it to be, before pulling it back round for a smooth and satisfying ending.
It’s the most faithful adaptation of Good Omens that anyone could have asked for – it’s funny, sweet, and utterly off its rocker, and it boasts the best TV bromance in a long time, but could have benefitted from freeing itself from the source material just a tiny bit more.