Good Omens is my favourite novel ever, and that is a fairly competitive field. A field that contains a fair amount of Terry Pratchett, a load of Douglas Adams, not to mention Pride and Prejudice. I first read it when I was a student, not long after release, and not long after reading my first Pterry. It’s a book I’ve returned to again and again, and every time I do I find something new to love. To the casual reader it might appear light, frivolous even. But it’s not; far from it. It’s a rumination on what it is to be alive, to be human. With gags. Lots and lots of gags. And footnotes. Some of which are also gags. What is stunning is that the hit rate is so very high. I truly don’t think there’s a misfire in the whole story. Some people sometimes make the mistake of thinking that because something is funny it can’t be serious at the same time. They’re wrong. Often, possibly the wrongest they possibly can be, because sometimes, when things are so serious, that’s when you need the funny most of all. Anyway, I digress. I love this book, can’t you tell?
Bringing it to the screen has been…something of a struggle. I’d have loved to see what Terry Gilliam made of it, but that wasn’t to be. Instead, we had to wait until Terry’s embuggerance took hold and he got Neil to take on the task himself. So here we are.
And from the very first moment, it’s spectacular. The opening paragraphs of the novel (and its associated footnotes) are rendered on screen in a way that made me think a lot about Hitchhiker, before we find ourselves in the Garden of Eden with, one must pleasingly point out here, a more ethnically correct depiction of Adam and Eve than we are used to in such stories. It’s the little things that you know will make the difference sometimes. At this point, we meet Crawly and Azirahale. And within seconds they are old friends to us. As casting goes, have a biscuit, because it’s bloody brilliant, the chemistry between Michael Sheen and David Tennant is a joy to behold. But then, no one cast here feels wrong, not even having an American Anathema (Adria Arjona). It felt slightly odd very initially (like, about a minute or so), then I thought: why not? Some of the Devices could have ended there in the space of 350 years, so it’s perfectly fair. Plus, it’s a hook for a US audience, I suppose. It also helps that she was actually rather great. Prettry much everyone was stellar, from Michael McKean’s wandering Scottish accent as Shadwell, to Jack Whiteall’s Newt, Miranda Richardson, and even Jon Hamm’s turn as Gabriel(1). I thought The Them were pretty good too. Adam was bang on, though maybe Brian was a bit thinner than I pictured. No matter. Even the minor parts and cameos, from Anna Maxwell-Martin to the League of Gentlemen are all so pitch perfect, it’s hard to find fault.
There are things missing, of course. There always are when you transfer a sory from one medium to another. So, we don’t meet The Four Other Horsemen (for which there are reasons), or have diversions about Greasy Johnson and his gang, though the tropical fish line in episode 1 is a little fossil of that.
But for everything missing, there’s a new thing, such as the montage in episode 3 showing Crowley and Aziraphale through the ages. The only issue there for me, is that we didn’t see them in the fourteenth century, a time of which we know Crowley is not inordinately fond. Well, I say the only possible issue; the depiction of the crucifixion might be slightly more of a problem for some, but I thought that was actually rather moving, and even had a faintest little nod to Douglas Adams Hitchhiker’s Guide, and its passage about Fenchurch’s revelation just as the Vogons demoilsh the earth.
The whole thing barrels along beautifully, and captures the spirit of the original so well. Of course, to keep the interest of the likes of me, Gaiman even provided a slightly tricksy ending, which I really loved. And then, to finish it all, that lovely Tori Amos version of A Nightingale Sang In Berlkey Square. It all dovetailed together very nicely. Gaiman said he wanted to write this for Terry, nd I think he got it right. Only he knows how close he got in his own had, but to someone like me who has kept this book in his head for around two thirds of my life, he nailed it. It was a fitting tribute. But most important of all, it was bloody good fun.
(1) It turns out that Good Omens is a book he has read, and of which he is a huge fan. Another reason to like the man!