Good Omens review: Amazon Prime fantasy series based on Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett book packs in too much

Good Omens, the legendary 1990 piece of fantasy fiction written by Neil Gaiman and the late Sir Terry Pratchett, finally gets its very own show premiering 31 May on Amazon Prime Video

Karishma Upadhyay May 30, 2019 11:33:08 IST
Good Omens review: Amazon Prime fantasy series based on Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett book packs in too much

In the beginning, you hear the voice of God and you realise it sounds a lot like Frances McDormand. You’re then told that God does not play dice with the universe, but an ineffable game of her own devising; pretty much like a game of poker in a pitch dark room for infinite stakes with a dealer who won’t tell you the rules and smiles all the time. You also learn that the earth is a Libra.

Good Omens, the legendary 1990 piece of fantasy fiction written by Neil Gaiman and the late Sir Terry Pratchett, finally gets its very own show premiering 31 May on Amazon Prime Video. And it’s grand, it really is. Following a recent trend of big budget OTT shows like The Man in The High Castle and The Umbrella Academy, Good Omens is a spectacle.

There’s sharp and witty dialogue, tons of cultural references and visuals that span six millennia of the world’s existence, starting from the Garden of Eden. They’ve splurged on the music with a highly catchy theme composed by David Arnold, the man who scored six Bond films and the 2012 Olympics. There’s an abundance of rock classics from Queen, The Beatles, CCR and AC DC amongst others. The cast is stellar with David Tennant, Michael Sheen and John Hamm among others, and of course, Frances McDormand essaying the voice of God.

Good Omens review Amazon Prime fantasy series based on Neil Gaiman Terry Pratchett book packs in too much

David Tennant and Michael Sheen in Good Omens.

The story pairs an angel, Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and a demon, Crowley (David Tennant), in what is arguably the most whimsical satire ever written on the Book of Revelation. Around since the beginning of the world, the two serve on opposite sides but still manage to forge a close friendship of sorts and come to each other’s rescue on multiple occasions. The relationship spanning 6,000-years between them established through their trysts across multiple biblical and historical events; everything from the great flood and the crucifixion, all the way up to the Second World War. There’s even a scene where Crowley and Aziraphale are watching Shakespeare struggle with his actors to put up a performance of Hamlet.

The banter between the two actors has charm in spades, and this is a brand of buddy dynamics that modern cinema (and television) seems to have lost. There’s a lovely scene where Aziraphale and Crowley discover that they both need to go to Scotland, one to perform a blessing, while the other a curse. So they flip a coin to see who would go and do both. Given the quality of the source material and the actors delivering the lines, this in itself is gold. Unfortunately, what is the show’s biggest draw is its only one.

Had this just been a series of small shorts featuring Sheen and Tennant riffing off of each other, it might have made for more entertaining fare. Unfortunately, there’s a story unfolding as well, and that’s where things become a little tiring.

Crowley has been charged with delivery of the Antichrist baby to a group of Satanic nuns who muck the plan up and send him home with the wrong parents. For eleven years, Crowley and Aziraphale make a secret pact to watch over the child and neutralise him in an effort to stop the End of Days, only to eventually discover they have the wrong devil spawn. A sixteenth century witch, Agnes Nutter gets thrown into the mix. Nutter wrote the ‘nice and accurate’ book of prophecies and has a descendent, Anathema Device (Adria Arjona) who now enters the fray looking for the Antichrist child.

There’s also Newton Pulsifer (Jack Whitehall), a young accountant who can’t use a computer without causing mass power blackouts, so takes up an apprenticeship with a witch hunter (go figure!). Then there’s the 11-year-old Antichrist himself. And, his three friends. And, his pet dog who’s really a hound from Hell in disguise. Phew. It’s a lot. And that’s just the first three episodes (reviewers were given just the first three episodes in advance).

The last three episodes might see an improvement, but given how much Gaiman, who is also the showrunner, has tried to pack into the first three episodes (or how little he’s been willing to forgo), it doesn’t seem likely. The best adaptations of successful books have either always had more time to develop its characters, or have gone with simpler narratives and fewer sub-plots. The show suffers from trying to do too much in very little time. They’ve managed to build a great relationship between the two lead characters, but little else.

Good Omens remains one of those books that makes the cut on most Top 10 lists within the Fantasy Fiction genre, alongside the works of Tolkien, Rowling and Pullman. It’s highly improbable, however, that this six-episode miniseries would end up on anyone’s must-watch lists.

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