Angels and Demons, Accurate Prophecies, and the Apocalypse: “Good Omens” Adaptation

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“Good Omens,” the long awaited adaptation to the Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman book of the same name, was released as an Amazon Prime mini series on May 31. The mini series centers around an angel and a demon who are trying to prevent the end of the world, with plenty of hijinks involving a very incompetent order of Satanic nuns, a hellhound in the shape of a small black and white mutt, a very superstitious witch hunter, and heaven and hell warring against each other. 

The book itself was published in 1990 and was very well received by many different critics, authors, and directors. English author and screenwriter Clive Barker commented,  “The apocalypse has never been funnier.” Its use of dry humor and mocking attitude of religion, without going so far as to be disrespectful, is what draws so many people to it. The Amazon adaptation follows an almost identical storyline, with the omission of a few characters and a scene or two, and has a very similar tone and sense of humor in addition to many of the lines being taken verbatim from the book. Of course this is to be expected with Neil Gaiman as one of the executive producers.

The show itself stars Michael Sheen as the angel Aziraphale and David Tennant as the demon Crowley, who became friends shortly after man was banished from the Garden of Eden, and kept in touch all throughout history. Both Crowley and Aziraphale hear that the Antichrist will be born soon and that armageddon will occur shortly after. Since the two wish to prevent that from happening, they do all they can to make sure the antichrist does not destroy the world and begin the war between heaven and hell. 

Both Sheen and Tennant are very talented and established actors who bring a lot of tact and humor to their roles. Since the relationship between the two unlikely unlikely friends is one of the main driving forces of the plot, it takes a good deal of balance to portray such a strange friendship. Tennant and Sheen execute this very well, keeping their interactions friendly and helpful, but still having their moments of antagonism towards each other. Zee Malamud, a sophomore and fan of both the book and the show, had this to say about the characters: “The two leads are portrayed a lot like how they were in the book, which is very hard to accomplish. The two characters wouldn’t be found in any other kind of book but Neil Gaiman’s. They’re very well balanced for each other.” 

The supporting cast plays a very big part of the brilliance and popularity of the show as well. With actors such as John Hamm playing the haughty and condescending archangel Gabriel, Adria Arjorna as witch and occultist Anathema Device, and others such as Nick Offerman, Michael McKean, Miranda Richardson, and even Frances McDormand as the voice of God and Benedict Cumberbatch as the voice of Satan. The actors and actresses do a marvelous job of playing off each other while still staying true to the original source material.

Of course no piece of media is without controversy. Since “Good Omens is focused on religion and religious figures, it was bound to spark discussion and argument. Religious groups spoke out by saying that the show was offensive, a criticism of religion as a whole, and encouraging of demon worship. There were even attempts to write directly to Netflix and petition them to cancel the show, which would be difficult seeing as the show was released on Amazon Prime. Since the show also takes a religious subject and shows it through a very comical lens, it also seemed as if the show were making fun of religion.

However, other viewers and fans of the show don’t think this to be true. When asked about this subject, Brian O’Sullivan, professor of English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said,  “I think that being able to laugh at ourselves and laugh at the world we live in is an important value. To treat even very serious subjects with a certain amount of irreverence so that there’s flexibility to recognize where things might not be as dire or as fixed and rigid as we thought is a very useful practice.” This does not mean that the show is going out of its way to mock religion. On the contrary, it handles the topic, which in and of itself is sensitive, with tact and style, at least as much style as one can use without sacrificing comedy. Malamud had this to say about it: “I think it handles religion quite well. It’s a lot like book of Mormon in how much it jokes on religion, but it’s also less insulting to all religions and to certain people in them. It’s not out and out disrespect.”

There has been talk of a second season, but if this is the case, Neil Gaiman will not be involved. Gaiman was quoted in an interview with Independent UK that he’d much rather be writing novels than making movies or TV shows. However, it was stated in the same interview that adapting Good Omens for the screen was one of the final wishes of Sir Terry Pratchett before his death in March of 2015. Knowing this, and knowing that Gaiman did all he could to make the adaptation as close to the brilliance and wit of the book makes the viewing that much better. It is clear that the show was a labor of love for all involved and a loving tribute from one friend to another. Reviews of the show remain positive and recommendations could not be higher. If you have not already seen this hilarious, touching, thought provoking, and artfully done show, be sure to check it out. There are only six episodes at around 45 minutes each and it is  a delightful watch. 

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