Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Good Omens

Omen Roads

Good Omens
UK BBC2 & Amazon Prime Six Episodes

Directed by Douglas Mackinnon
Airdate: Amazon Prime 2019 and
BBC2 January 15th - February 19th 2020

Well this is a fun romp if ever I watched one.

I’m not that into Terry Pratchett but I quite like the work of his co-writer on the original source novel of Good Omens, Neil Gaiman (seriously folks... read The Sandman comics or, even better, his first Death mini series, The High Cost Of Living). As it turns out, Gaiman also wrote the script to this TV mini series, a final request from Terry Pratchett before he died after several people had tried to turn it into a movie... not least of whom was Terry Gilliam, who would have had Robin Williams and Johnny Depp in the two lead roles of the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley (yeah, that’s right, named after Aleister Crowley... I don’t think this is the first time that Mr. Gaiman has referenced Mr. C in his work). So, yeah, this thing has been adapted very well, from what I understand.

Even so, I might have given this a miss if it hadn’t been for the guy who sometimes sells me tickets at Enfield Town train station recommending this show to me. So special thanks to Lee... much appreciated.

Now the show opens less strongly than I’d expected after all the rave reviews on Twitter last year, with a sequence narrated, as is the entire six episodes, by the always watchable (or should that be listenable in this case?) actress Frances McDormand as the Voice of God. The problem for me at just the start of this was that the way the opening was put together made it sound like it was an episode of Douglas Adam’s excellent The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and, if anyone was going to do that right it was certainly the BBC but, for a little while there, I was missing Peter Jones as ‘The Book’. However, after a little while, everything settles down and we are plummeted headlong into a fairly dense narrative involving switching the anti-Christ for a baby in an evil nunnery to hasten along the apocalypse eight or nine years later.

The narrative starts many centuries in the past and tells this tale of the human race hurtling towards an oblivion which all the angels and demons are anxiously awaiting so they can battle each other in some kind of Holy War. In this version we have Michael Sheen as Aziraphale and David Tennant as Crowley and, to be honest, it’s these two fine actors, surrounded by many more famous and fine actors, who make the brilliant words of the writers sing and hold the interest. Everybody is good in this but Sheen and Tennant are on fire as unlikely ‘friends’ posted on Earth for many hundreds of years to keep an eye on everything. It’s their relationship with each other that really keeps you watching as it soon becomes clear that neither of these two want their home on Earth ruined by some coming Apocalypse and they bungle their way, for the most part, into ultimately doing their bit... along with Adria Arjona as Anathema Device, Jack Whitehall as Newton Pulsifer, Michael McKean as Shadwell, Miranda Richardson as Madame Tracy and the anti-Christ himself, Sam Taylor Buck as Adam... trying to prevent the potential Holy War on their doorstep. Helped out  or hindered by numerous special guest stars who pop up now and again like Brian Cox, Benedict Cumberbatch, Josie Lawrence, Derek Jacobi and Bill Paterson... who are among a cast that give some amazing performances along the way.

I said the narrative was dense and that’s because it takes its time, focusing on little details and the backgrounds of various characters which are an absolute joy to watch. You might think this means that the audience won’t be able to see the wood for the trees but Gaiman’s script and the confident direction of Douglas Mackinnon allows you to see both... and lets you rub yourselves up close and personal on the bark and branches as you journey your way through six riveting episodes.

It’s not a predictable story for the most part either. I didn’t quite see what the ending would be (although I came close to figuring out the nature of the denouement, just not the long term consequences) and there are things which happen that keep the mind engaged as each story thread unravels.

All this and with a good score too by the great British composer David Arnold, who has a nice theme tune and a score which I’ll need to become better acquainted with once I give the generous double CD of the soundtrack from Silva Screen a spin. Heck, it even has a cover of the song A Nightingale Sings in Berkeley Square by pop music Goddess Tori Amos, who is a friend of Neil Gaiman and who ‘inspired’ the character of Delirium in The Sandman comics (aka, the character is loosely based on her).

The series is charming with likeable central characters and some clever things happening throughout. I especially liked the younger version of Shadwell working for Crowley in Soho in the 1960s and how he thinks the Crowley in the present day is that character’s son (the two lead protagonists obviously don’t age over the years but the people around them do). There are a fair few Doctor Who references hidden in the run too (as well as a fair few ex-Who actors and actresses), if you’re into that kind of reference spotting mindset.

Not much more to say other than, it’s very funny in places, very moving in others and also, bearing in mind this is a joint BBC production, has some fairly competent special effects thrown into the mix too. Not so much Good Omens but Great Omens, as far as I’m concerned and it even has a nicely thought out ending. Definitely one to take a look at even if, like me, you’re not really that into Pratchett. I might even give the book a go at some point, I think.

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