Good Omens, Being a Brief Review of the First Episode or Two

Geek culture has, in recent years, gotten much harder and sharper — more hipster — than I recall growing up, to the point where misogyny and racism seem built into obscure pop-culture appreciation. I’ve owned every generation of video game. I’ve owned almost every Star Wars video game made. Speaking of which, thanks to the wonders of VHS, I owned, until recently, photographic proof that Han shot first. I took Calculus 2 classes in high school, and learned to type on an Apple IIe. I’ve personally met Ray Bradbury twice (this is true). To quote you IT crowd, “Ich bin nerd.”

And there is no more hipster-ish or nerd-based cultural totem than “Good Omens.” I originally came across Neil Gaiman’s Stardust while perusing Amazon in 1997 (this is true)(I was using the Internet in 1996, thanks to some forward-thinking parents). I was sold, and spent a while trying to track down a copy of “Stardust” (I eventually got a copy of the graphic novel from Powell’s Books, which I got Mr. Gaiman to sign at Comic Con 2007)(again, I will see all your nerd credentials and raise you). In my quest for Gaiman’s books, I came across “Good Omens,” in 1998 (I’d get my copy of Stardust a year later in Toronto, in The World’s Biggest Bookstore). I’d been looking for that book for a year by that time, and I’d say the hunt was worth it. Like everyone else who read that book prior to the pop-cultural rise of Mssrs Gaiman and Pratchett, I still have that first, only copy of Good Omens. It will remain, sadly, unsigned by Sir Terry Pratchett.

One of Mr. Gaiman’s ongoing “FAQ’s” at various expos and speaking arrangements is, “A state of Good Omens.” Like all the other early-adopters, I’ve been waiting for this for several decades, and, like all respectable creators, Mr. Gaiman could, prior to this year, only kind of shrug his shoulders and say, “It’s not likely to happen” (I was at Comic Con in 2007, when Gaiman announced Stardust would be movie within a year, and I saw his adaptation of Beowulf the week it was released). As a cancer survivor, it is a delightfully Neil Gaiman-esque (and, one would think, Sir T. Pratchett, too)(if you are completely unaware of Terry Pratchett, as most Americans are, all that needs to be said is that he was an unparalleled satirical fantasy writer who actually forged a steel sword using iron from a meteor). I could write a few books about what Sir Terry, and his gentle, but pointed humor meant to me. And Gaiman’s usual line about Good Omens was, “Now that Terry’s gone, the rights to adapt his work are, too,” (author’s note: that’s paraphrased, and possibly inaccurate). So, as a fan of both Pratchett and Gaiman, I am not, in any way an objective critic of this adaptation. Like, I nearly cried at the use of Queen’s Under Pressure in the trailers, because that band was specifically mentioned in the book.

In the upcoming weeks, you’ll no doubt read many reviews of Good Omens, many of which, I have no doubt, will be positive, some of which will be negative, but, all I can say is, the target demographic of this show is: the fans. We’ve been waiting 30 years for an adaptation, and, usually, in that time, the path from “book” to screen usually leaves something to be desired. So, as a rabid fan of this book (and people seem to be split into only two groups — rabid fandom, and people who don’t really care for it; there really isn’t a middle ground there). Personally my verdict is, given the enormous pedigree and weight of fandom around this work, the TV show (on Amazon) does not disappoint. If anything, it is, miraculously, even better than we’d hoped for.

So, the central conceit — in both the book and TV show — is “What would happen if there was a glitch in the apocalypse?”

If you are a Christian who takes their faith too seriously — particularly all that rather grim and dismal stuff about Revelations and end times — this is probably not your cup of tea. If, on the other hand, you might agree with one of the main characters — a demon (we’ll get there in a bit) — that things like the Biblical Flood indiscriminately killing children (even the demon thinks that’s a bit harsh), or that sacrificing your only child to yourself is, perhaps, not a totally-moral act; you might enjoy this series.

The main plotline works around Aziraphale and Crowley, and angel and demon (as the book describes him, “Not an angel who fell, so much sauntered in a vaguely downward direction”), and Heaven and Hell’s envoys to Earth, who become reluctant friends (the book describes it as, “Similar to situations in which enemy agents stationed in the same foreign city begin to realize that they have much more in common with each other, than they do with their respective, but distant, superiors”), after bumping into each other over the millennia on Earth (Aziraphale was the Angel of the East Gate of Eden, who, defying God’s orders, took pity on the exiled humans, and gave Adam and Eve his flaming sword; Crowley actually was the serpent who tempted Eve)(there’s a delightful scene in the series that wasn’t in the book, of God sternly questioning Aziraphale about where his sword is). They eventually, after realizing that all that Aziraphale is doing on Earth are effectively canceled by Crowley’s work, eventually decide to call it a stalemate, and just limit themselves to more minor efforts (Crowley takes out cell service in the greater London area for an entire Friday night), until, 11 years ago, the Antichrist is sent to Earth. Originally, the plan was to swap him with the child of an American ambassador to Europe, but, thanks to a botched baby-swapping on behalf of Sister Mary Loquacious of the Chattering Order of Satanic Nuns, winds up with an extremely normal, very English local family. Crowley and Aziraphale, in their agreement upon a joint stalemate, focus on giving the presumed (but not-really) Antichrist a solid education in Good and Evil (although, as the show — and book — frequently point out, there’s nothing innately Good or Evil about Heaven and Hell; they’re just opposing sides; true Good and Evil are found only in us)(there’s a superb line in the book about Crowley wanting to write to headquarters telling them not to bother with any temptations, corruptions, or wars; there’s nothing Hell can do to us that we aren’t already doing to each other — usually involving electrodes). Their thinking is that, by making the Antichrist aware of the benefits and problems of both Heaven and Hell, he might just choose to be normal. It’s that relationship — between a fallen angel and a not-so-fallen-but-hardly-saintlike angel — that forms the backbone of the story. Michael Sheen and David Tennant are magnificent as the Angel and Demon who, after spending 11 years tutoring the Antichrist in the ways of good and evil, suddenly find out they’ve misplaced the Antichrist. And there’s a bit about the most-accurate prophetess ever, a witch named Agnes Nutter (who’s so good, her final words were, “You’re late. I was supposed to be dead an hour ago), and her great-great-great (etc.) granddaughter and “professional descendant,” Anathema Device. There’s a lot going on, and it would take far too much time to write it, but, if you consider yourself a nerd; if you’ve ever played Dungeons and Dragons (or Dark Forces), this is your show. It is the ultimate love-letter to the millions of fans who helped Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett make a living doing something they clearly love, writing.

Written by

Science journalist, cancer survivor, biomedical consultant, the “Wednesday Addams of travel writers.”

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