by Rory Nakpil (Class 2022)
Amazon recently released a 6-episode mini-series adaptation of the 1990 novel “Good Omens” by Neil Gaiman and the late Terry Pratchett. The story revolves around the angel, Aziraphale, and the demon, Crawley (who later decided to go by the name Crowley) on a tangentially heroic journey to put the apocalypse on hold. The story is nothing short of hilarious, plagued by absurd setbacks and run-ins with big names like the archangels, the Antichrist, and Satan himself.
I chanced upon the “Good Omens” novel by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, a black book with the drawing of an angel holding a book, back when I was attending an all girls’ Catholic high school and starting to descend into the beginnings of doubt in the absolute certainty about the Roman Catholic faith. Gaiman’s name was familiar to me as I had read his “Sandman” comic book series and short story collection “Fragile Things”. He had a flair for the fantastic and a characteristic dark humor that I enjoyed. My father called him the “plagiarist” because Gaiman often used well-known characters from classics and mythology as characters, and twisted and re-imagined their stories. An avid reader as a child, I loved Gaiman’s takes on the stories I grew up with, and Good Omens was no exception. Pratchett, a powerhouse in his own right in the same vein as Gaiman, was less known to me, but after I finished Good Omens, I immediately tore through his bizarre, endearing “Discworld” series and his own takes on well-known classics, myths, and legends, and was enchanted by his work. Razor sharp wit and a penchant for the ridiculous, his stories evoked such a wide range of emotions, and made quite the impact. For this story, the two teamed up to twist and re-imagine a timeless classic, the Bible. The two authors’ distinct voices harmonized in the interactions of the story’s main characters, Aziraphale and Crowley, and wove together a carefully calculated, seemingly chaotic tapestry of events and characters as a plan that is something that is just above the realm of human, angelic, and demonic understanding.
Given the short amount of time that the series had, they chose to focus on the characters and their relationships rather than the overarching plot from the book. The cornerstone of it all being the loving and supportive friendship between Aziraphale and Crowley, just two men or rather, entities who aren’t supposed to, but have quite a lot in common. We also get to see flashbacks of their interactions during pivotal points in history: the Garden of Eden, the French Revolution, and watching early renditions of Shakespeare’s plays; and how they, over the years, build a beautiful friendship with one another and come to grow fond of the world. Michael Sheen’s anxious, overly-polite, foodie Aziraphale and David Tenant’s sarcastic, Queen-loving, rock god Crowley were fantastic portrayals of beloved characters with dashes of significant, additional character details that made them all the more loveable in the show. Their performances really brought a vitality to the angel and demon, stepping out of dry, dark humor of the book and projecting the same vibe onto a colorful, modern screen interpretation. Jon Hamm as the archangel Gabriel was a stroke of casting genius, and his role and performance are a highlight not to be missed. I appreciated Nina Sosanya as Sister Mary Loquacious, the bumbling Satanic nun that assists in the birth of the Antichrist, the characters are given depth and attention even with brief appearances, they are brought to life on the screen. Throw in excellent set design with great attention to detail, and a lovely soundtrack featuring some of Queen’s greatest hits and an original theme composed by David Arnold, the composer that did the soundtrack of the James Bond movies, and you have some excellent entertainment.
The book has a special place in my heart, albeit chaotic and confusing as the story jumped point-of-view quite often and abruptly, the individual bits and pieces coalesce to reveal a well-thought out plan – one that gives you the idea of organization with enough ambiguity to remain unpredictable. It’s a plan that demands trust and faith. This comical take on the coming of the end of days gave a young Catholic school girl struggling with her faith a feeling of acknowledgement in that believing wasn’t as easy as everyone had made it seem, and that it was okay to be uncertain even about religious things during the throes of adolescence and angst. It echoed to me the very definition of faith, and that is being able to believe in something in spite of the inability to understand it: to be faithful was to accept and still believe in the ineffable. The show is a little bit more organized and does not evoke that same feeling of mystery and chaos that gradually becomes more understandable and comfortable, but it is undoubtedly good television, unapologetically bending traditional gender norms and roles, integrating more recent technology with the same dry, but over-the-top antics and humor that you have in the book. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but is able to effectively drive home serious points about the state of the world and the ambiguity of good and evil. I’d argue that the book is still a must-read in order to fully appreciate how all of these complex, intricate details come together in these fantastic, unlikely, and funny ways, but the series is still brilliant in its own way -enjoyable to first time consumers of this content and fans of the original book.