GOOD OMENS 2. You need two for tango [REVIEW]
In 1990, the result of a collaboration between two popular fantasy authors, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, saw the light of day. A humorous tale about a pair of friends – an angel and a demon – who come to the realization that the world doesn’t deserve its impending doom, immediately captured the hearts of fans of both writers.
One Crib Too Far
The adaptation took nearly thirty years to come to fruition, even though Gaiman and Pratchett had been working on the idea together much earlier. Nonetheless, the first season of Good Omens only graced our screens in 2019, four years after the latter’s passing. Initially, Gaiman had refused to continue working on the project, but a posthumous letter from Pratchett changed his mind. Production began in 2017, with Michael Sheen cast as the angel Aziraphale and David Tennant as the demon Crowley. They were joined by John Hamm as the archangel Gabriel, Frances McDormand as the voice of God/narrator, and Benedict Cumberbatch as the voice of Satan.
The story begins with a minor situational mistake that places the descendant of Satan, affectionately known as the Great Adversary, Destroyer of Kings, Angel of the Bottomless Pit, the Beast, the Dragon, Prince of This World, the Devil’s Spawn, and the Prince of Darkness, in the wrong crib. Oops. Things can only get worse from there.
After six thousand years of carrying out their professional duties on Earth, the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley come to the conclusion that they can’t bear to witness the world’s destruction. Aziraphale runs a bookstore where, while enjoying excellent tea and classical music, he has never actually sold a single book. Meanwhile, Crowley cruises around in a Bentley, where every CD eventually contains only Queen songs, and he nurtures potted plants. It’s hard, really, to give up these small pleasures without a good reason. Besides, after collaborating more or less intensively for such a long time, Crowley and Aziraphale have simply grown fond of each other. So, while trying to rectify a minor mistake from eleven years ago, they also do whatever they can to prevent the divine plan from unfolding. To make things easier, they are joined by the descendant of Agnes Nutter, who, thanks to a book of prophecies, knows what’s coming – although she doesn’t grasp the details, as prophecies aren’t as precise as Anathema would like them to be – a group of witch hunters, and a somewhat under-painted Jezebel.
The first season is entirely based on Pratchett and Gaiman’s novel. It features a kind of absurd humor that you have to appreciate – I personally love it, so the brilliantly executed opening credits by Peter Anderson Studio immediately set the right mood for me. The crazy animation depicting Aziraphale and Crowley’s journey to the Apocalypse lasts just over a minute and a half and is a true gem – finding hidden elements in it is a game in itself. Following that, there’s the incredible delight of watching Michael Sheen and David Tennant interact.
These two gentlemen each have undeniable talent and impressive careers. Michael Sheen is a recognized Welsh theater and film actor and producer, best known for his role as Lucian in the Underworld series, Tony Blair in The Queen, and Aro in the Twilight saga. David Tennant is beloved as the Doctor in Doctor Who, as well as for his roles in Des and as young Barty Crouch Jr. in the Harry Potter film series. However, their theatrical and film achievements pale in comparison to the incredible chemistry they share. Sheen and Tennant together are a phenomenon to be admired and celebrated, as fans of Good Omens and the series Staged, where David and Michael play themselves during the pandemic, have been doing for years. Their Zoom meetings are a comedic masterpiece.
This chemistry is evident in Good Omens. They are supported by wonderful actors – especially John Hamm, who shines with his comedic portrayal of Gabriel/Jim in the second season, as well as Nina Sosanya, Maggie Service, and Miranda Richardson, who appear in both seasons in various roles and excel in each. However, the truth is that it’s Sheen and Tennant who make Good Omens what it is. Sheen as the thoroughly honest, occasionally indulgent in minor pleasures angel and Tennant as the laid-back (especially in his movements) and mischievous demon complement each other so perfectly that it’s almost unbelievable. Viewers (rightly so) get the feeling that no matter what happens, no matter how the story unfolds, the sheer joy of watching these two is enough.
Holy saints and angels!
Particularly, this is helpful in the second season, where, unfortunately, Terry Pratchett’s genius is already absent. Elements that were characteristic of him – the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the voice of God/narrator, and absurd humor – are noticeably absent in the second season. The opening scenes are intriguing – here’s Archangel Gabriel, as naked as the day he was created (we can’t assume that’s how God actually created him), appearing at Aziraphale’s bookstore with an empty box. What’s even more intriguing is that he doesn’t remember anything, not even his own name. Aziraphale immediately seeks Crowley’s help, for reasons that are understandable to anyone familiar with the novel or the first season, as he can’t call on heavenly forces for help. Given the circumstances, it would be slightly reckless.
What starts out as genuinely funny (as I mentioned earlier, John Hamm does a great job in his helpless portrayal of Gabriel/Jim), it progresses too slowly to truly engage the viewer. Aziraphale and Crowley theoretically collaborate, but it feels lackluster, and their scenes together clearly suggest that finding the lost memory of the archangel isn’t the main focus of the season. Their relationship, while still delightfully unstable, undergoes a noticeable change. The season finale explains everything, but it doesn’t necessarily satisfy viewers because such a pronounced shift in focus may come as a significant surprise to many of them.
In my opinion, the second season is decidedly weaker than the first. It’s not that there’s a lack of ideas, but I have the impression that the idea took a direction dictated, perhaps, by currently trending themes. While the story of Gabriel’s memory loss is somewhat touching (by the way, I couldn’t help but notice the change of actress in the role of Beelzebub, which, I must admit, had a slightly sexist undertone), the direction in which Aziraphale and Crowley’s characters are taken doesn’t quite sit right with me. It dramatically changes what I loved about both of them in the novel and during the first season. So, with a slight sense of unease, I am still hopeful as I await the third season of the series.