Review: ‘Good Omens’ Episode 1

People have been eagerly awaiting the apocalypse for nearly three decades and it has finally arrived in Amazon’s Good Omens. Good Omens, adapted from the novel co-written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman of the same name, is a comic fantasy that sees an angel and a demon team up to prevent the apocalypse. The opening episode of this six-part miniseries offers a strong cast and the quirky, British humor for which the book is known in this faithful adaptation penned by Neil Gaiman, himself.

Since the novel’s release in 1990, Good Omens has had several attempts to be adapted to screen but each failed. Terry Gilliam was offered the rights for a film adaptation, but the project became trapped in development hell. It wasn’t until 2015, with Pratchett’s death, that Gaiman began writing the screenplay that would eventually become this six-part miniseries, after receiving a letter from the late author urging him to make an adaptation happen. The result is an entirely faithful adaptation of the novel.

The episode, entitled “In the Beginning”, opens exactly where you would expect: the beginning. Adam and Eve are living in the Garden and Eden when the demon Crowley (David Tennant), disguised as a serpent, tempts Eve to eat the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge, and both she and Adam take a bite. When they are cast out from the garden, the angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) gives Adam his flaming sword to defend themselves. Fast forward a few thousand years to the present day, or rather 11 years before the present day, and Crowley and Aziraphale have been living on earth as spies for their respective bosses. Crowley is tasked with delivering the newborn antichrist to a Satanic nunnery where the nuns there are to replace an unsuspecting couple’s newborn baby with the antichrist. Naturally, things don’t go as planned and the antichrist ends up going home with the wrong family, unbeknownst to everyone except God (voiced by Frances McDormand), who provides narration for the series.

Crowley and Aziraphale hatch a plan to stop the antichrist from growing into his powers and instead steer him to the light. The unlikely friends watch over the boy they believe to be the antichrist, providing guidance and steering him toward good, with Crowley providing hellish advice and Aziraphale rebuking Crowley and offering more sound advice. Just a few days before the apocalypse, the demons of Hell send a hellhound to earth to serve as protection for the antichrist. When Crowley and Aziraphale find out, they keep an eye on the boy they think is the antichrist and plan to stop him from naming the hellhound, which would bind the hellhound to him and give it purpose. They’re surprised when no hellhound arrives, and realize they’ve been watching over the wrong kid. They have no idea where the true antichrist is and there’s only a couple of days until the apocalypse. Elsewhere, the real antichrist has unwittingly bound the hellhound to him, beginning the process of awakening his powers.

The highlight of this episode is the chemistry between Tennant’s Crowley and Sheen’s Aziraphale. There’s an odd-couple sort of relationship between the affable and fussy angel and hedonistic demon that brings an irresistible amount of charm to the show. The relationship between Crowley and Aziraphale is the core of the story, and poor casting would have been severely detrimental to the series. Tennant and Sheen are perfect in their roles, however, and most of the rest of the cast shines too. Francis McDormand as the voice of God provides a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy­-style narration throughout. Jon Hamm plays the archangel Gabriel, Aziraphale’s supervisor whom he reports to. There are also brief appearances from Nick Offerman as an American Diplomat, and Nina Sosanya as one of the Satanic nuns, who is hilarious in the short time she appears on screen.

The episode isn’t perfect, though. The episode has an overreliance on the voiceover narration from God, often ignoring one of the most quintessential adages in screenwriting: “Show, don’t tell.” For example, in a scene that has a hellhound snarling with a low rumble at a group of people, the voice of God says, “The hellhound growls a low, rumbling snarl of spring-coiled menace.” The narration is unnecessary. It stifles the actual snarling and undermines the visual storytelling. The audience doesn’t need to be told the hellhound is snarling because they’re watching it happen. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only time it happens in the episode and it’s distracting.

Good Omens warrants a watch for David Tennant’s and Michael Sheen’s chemistry alone. The classically British humor, and nearly exact adaptation of the source material is sure to delight fans of the novel. Even marred by the overreliance on voiceover narration, Good Omens has enough things going for it to draw in fans and keep them coming back for more.

Good Omens is now available to stream on Amazon Prime.

7/10

(Images: Amazon)

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