The trouble, it turns out, with being tasked with eternal oversight of the universe is that you have an eternal job to do, and if you have an eternal job to do, then you also have an eternal boss to look over your eternal shoulder, and, well, you know how bosses are. (Great! So great. Please, editors, don’t read this.) You have a boss for 6,000 years, and the layers of bureaucracy are going to keep building up, and suddenly you’re the only angel or demon in the whole stinking joint who thinks that cosmic oblivion is a bad thing, and you can’t even get in touch with the folks upstairs.
Such is, more or less, the premise of Good Omens, the adaptation of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s 1990 novel that comes out Friday on Amazon Prime. Our story begins with the arrival of the long-heralded Antichrist: the squalling, pink-cheeked progeny of the Devil himself, delivered straight from the underworld. In accordance with a hell-concocted plan thousands of years in the making, the wee satanic tot is to be left in the care of unknowing human parents. Then, upon the boy’s 11th birthday, he will come into his powers—great, hellacious, pure evil powers—at which point the earth will be destroyed (womp womp), and 10 million angels and 10 million demons will arrive to wage a theoretically conclusive war of heaven versus hell. It is written.
But here’s the thing: The angel Aziraphale (a megafussy Michael Sheen) and demon Crowley (a just delightful David Tennant, complete with a face tattoo and beloved Bentley), their respective sides’ longtime sentries on Earth, do not want to see the world end. For them, it’s less a matter of the supremacy of good or evil, but more that, well, sushi is pretty great, and Queen (the band, yes) is just perfection, and they don’t have either to the north or south.
So Aziraphale and Crowley come up with a celestially seditious plan: work together to steer the antidivine tween toward good, and see if this whole Armageddon thing might be avoided. But as She—yes, She; specifically the always-deific Frances McDormand in this case—so often does in the face of plans, God laughs, and then we’re off to the races. It turns out that bumbling agents of both good and evil have royally screwed things up, through either gross incompetence or negligence or both, and now Aziraphale and Crowley are left to frantically try to pick up the pieces and save the world—before their bosses find out that they maybe don’t have things on earth quite as under control as they’d made it seem. It is Fargo: Theology.
Good Omens’ casting is impeccable. Jon Hamm appears as, in his words, “the Archangel fucking Gabriel”—a character largely absent from the novel, but beefed up by Gaiman, who adapted the book for TV, to our immense benefit—here a catty, largely disinterested middle manager who wears a lot of cashmere (i.e. Wellness Don Draper). There’s a batty Michael McKean, playing an unrealized witch hunter with a thick Scottish accent that is not good, per se, but so enthusiastic as to make it irrelevant. There are voice roles for Brian Cox and Benedict Cumberbatch, plus Nick Offerman as a clean-shaven diplomat.
And then, of course, there are Sheen and Tennant, respectively anxious and bawdy, bowtie- and houseplant-obsessed. Over the centuries, we see them alternately tempt and soothe their way from the Garden of Eden, to the crucifixion of Jesus (“What did he say that got everyone so upset?” Crowley wonders; “Be kind to each other,” Aziraphale replies, despondent), to the Reign of Terror, to modern-day London, where they are friends, rivals, and … maybe kind of into each other? Perish the thought, and let St. Peter decide where it belongs. (Their maybe-relationship is a long-standing subject of fan shipping.)
Have I mentioned that Good Omens is merely six episodes in length, a miniseries encapsulation that feels like a blessing from the Lord himself (Jeff Bezos) in this age of streaming mania? Truth be told, the show is so much fun that I found myself wishing there was more to go around, but if this is the cost for episodes so richly upholstered, both visually and in Tennant one-liners, so be it.
Along the way, we meet descendants of witches and descendants of witch hunters; we have the descendant of Satan (an ethereal Sam Taylor Buck); and then, of course, a whole lot of eternal folks in, respectively, white scarves and black slime, who are simply trying to follow orders descended a very long time ago by … somebody, for some divine purpose.
This is, after all, a tale of bureaucracy. Do you follow your orders, or your destiny, even when it doesn’t really make much sense to you? Or do you step toward the dark side and, um, embrace sashimi? War, at any rate, is a nasty business. Crowley probably isn’t wrong that listening to Queen is a much better alternative.