Has anything been hotter in pop culture over the last few years than the end of the world? The Walking Dead, Last Man on Earth, Black Summer? So hot. American Horror Story: Apocalypse? Hot. The army of the dead looking to wipe out humanity that kicked off Game of Thrones season 8? Technically frozen but metaphorically hot. Our planet’s average surface temperature, which very well might actually bring about the end of all life on Earth? Very, very hot! The point is, we’re confronted with our own impending doom so often in the entertainment and media we consume that Armageddon has pretty much become an appointment to keep. Which makes Amazon’s Good Omens, in its unique, ineffable sort of way, the perfect story for our times. Good Omens is a show about the apocalypse the same way The Office is about a paper company. It’s more concerned with the personalities that make the Doomsday clock tick, the rules, the regulations, and the idea that the fuss might not actually be worth it since being alive—like, on a functioning, non-burning planet—is actually kind of nice, all things considered.
Based on the 1990 novel co-written by Neil Gaiman and the late, great Terry Pratchett, Good Omens follows the angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and the demon Crowley (David Tennant), who have struck up an odd-ball friendship over the course of 6,000 years serving as emissaries on Earth. When news comes down (or up, in Crowley’s case) of the impending apocalypse foretold in the Book of Revelation, the duo set about trying to delay the endtimes. The problem? During mix-up involving an incompetent order of Satanic nuns and an American diplomat played by Nick Offerman, the Anti-Christ is swapped for the wrong baby, and the forces of Heaven and Hell lose track of their doomsday harbinger. As Crowley and Aziraphale work to both hide their friendship and fix their mess, the world turns topsy-turvy; the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse are summoned, flying saucers descend from the sky, and a witch named Anathema Device (Adria Arjona) tries to make sense of it all using the prophecies of her distant relative, Agnes Nutter.
If that sounds like a lot, woo boy, that’s because it is. Good Omens‘ six episodes feel breezy thanks to a slick directing job from Douglas Mackinnon (Knightfall), but its narratively all over the place. To be fair, that’s often by design; Gaiman, who wrote all six episodes, is keeping the chaotic spirit of the book alive while also honoring Pratchett’s endearing tendency to go off on humorous tangents, asides, and footnotes. It works on a hit-or-miss level here, but doesn’t exactly lend itself to TV storytelling. The show relies far too often on Frances McDormand as the voice of God to carry the expositional load, most notably in the particularly tedious first episode. I mean, she kills the role—Frances McDormand’s voice had the authority of God in it way before she was cast in this show—but the presence of a (literally) omniscient narrator works better in a book than it does on-screen.
But here’s the thing: Most, if not all of the sloppiness can be forgiven thanks almost entirely to the cartoonishly wonderful performances put in by David Tennant and Michael Sheen. As Aziraphale and Crowley, these two are having a time-and-a-half chewing these scenes to pieces and asking for thirds. White-haired and tittering, Sheen instills his angelic role with a sort of Office Space working-man sadness mixed with pure puppy-dog goodness. Tennant is on another, far more manic level, displaying Crowley’s over-the-top swagger with every motion, to his eyes, to his face, to a swaggering strut that I can only describe as “Jim Morrison low-key throwing a temper tantrum.” Tennant and Sheen carry the chaos with their chemistry. One of the highlights of the entire series is a 28-minute cold open in episode 3 that tracks Aziraphale and Crowley’s relationship throughout the centuries. It’s a delight to see these two cycling through period costume and hairstyles, yes, but it also establishes a genuinely sweet beating heart of friendship underneath the show’s mayhem.
Every performance is a delight, really, and there’s a lot to choose from. Jon Hamm plays the Archangel Gabriel like a heavenly cousin to Don Draper, proving that heaven’s upper management probably would be extremely passive-aggressive. The Killing‘s Mireille Enos adds some crazy-eyed menace to her brief appearance as Four Horseman member War, while Brian Cox lends his very Grim Reaper-like voice to War’s colleague, Death. Michael McKean is, as always, rapid-fire funny as Shadwell, the last remaining member of the “Witchfinder Army”.
On and on, every familiar face adding to the charming calamity to the point where you really do wish it all felt like a cohesive whole, as opposed to a series of whacky vignettes. Faithful to the book and decidedly not American in tone and humor, Good Omens will almost certainly satisfy Pratchett and Gaiman die-hards, but I’m worried it might be near impenetrable for anyone not familiar with the source material. (And I might include the actual Bible in that.) A six-episode mini-series was certainly the right choice, either way. Tennant and Sheen are irresistible, and there’s no shortage of fun fire and fury here to whisk you straight through to the finale, but after six hours you are, in fact, ready for the end-times to end.
Good Omens premieres May 31 on Amazon Prime Video.