“It starts, as it will end, with a garden.”
It’s been a long time coming but, for fans of the irreverently hilarious novel, co-authored by two of the most revered writers of the last 30 years, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett (rest in peace, good man), Good Omens has arrived on Amazon Prime and, if the first episode is any indication, this adaptation will be everything we’ve been waiting to see.
From a general storytelling perspective, Good Omens sets the march towards the end of the world and how “people being fundamentally people” can cock up even the most carefully laid plans. Though, in this case, “people” is more or less Crowley, a demon who’s love for the finer things of life on Earth and unconventional friendship with the stuffy angel Aziraphale is the all-consuming heartbeat of this fantastic journey towards Armageddon. Though it’s just getting started, “In the Beginning” provides the jumping off point that has this reviewer extremely excited for the rest of this limited series.
As the title suggests, “In the Beginning” sets the foundation for everything that comes after it, going so far as to putting a stamp on the creation of the world (Sunday, October 21st, 4004 BC at precisely 9:13 AM, for anyone who’s interested), the temptation of Eve by Crowley, her and Adam’s subsequent expulsion from Eden, and the most important aspect of Good Omens: not the fate of the world but that kinship between demon and angel. While there is fun to be had in the humor portrayed in the narrative,to put it bluntly, without Crowley and Aziraphale, Good Omens is nothing more than a cheeky tale that, though entertaining, would be lacking the spirit that has made it an indelible work of literary fiction. As in the book, the relationship between Aziraphale and Crowley makes this story. Thus, it was imperative to find two actors that had not just the acting chops but the chemistry necessary to truly deliver the witty banter and charming interactions between these two peculiar representatives of Heaven and Hell. While only one episode in, David Tenant and Michael Sheen are masterful, their chemistry and timing spicing up the generic tale of the Antichrist leading the world Armageddon and making it something truly special. There may be other actors that could have done these roles justice but like Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans have made it so that I can never see anyone take on the mantles of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, respectively, so too will Tenant and Sheen forever be my Crowley (not to be mistaken with Mark Sheppard’s wondrous Supernatural character) and Aziraphale.
Not to be left out, the remaining cast makes its own powerful impressions. Frances McDormand takes the reigns as the narrator/God. Her even yet witty narration gives life to those aspects of “In the Beginning” that are imagery heavy (using metaphors to drive a point home) or in need of an extra bit of panache to keep the ball rolling while Jon Hamm represents Heaven as the stuffy and condescendingly friendly Gabriel. Both take a backseat to Tenant and Sheen but bring their own stamp that adds even more sauce to the story.
Back to the story, nothing sums up Crowley’s very poignant flub than McDormand’s use of the three-card Monty metaphor, whereas in this case, the cards are the three babies that, 11 years ago, were mixed up causing the Antichrist to not only be given to the wrong family but also deigned to live a life untouched by the direct influences of Heaven or Hell. On its face, that doesn’t sound like a bad thing but for Crowley and Aziraphale it signifies a dereliction of duty that won’t go over too well should their mistake become known. To top it off, not discovering their mistake until 11 years later and only days away from the end of the world, our two protagonists don’t have much time to rectify their historically epic cock-up.
While the plot doesn’t quite take a backseat to anything—it is Armageddon—Aziraphale and Crowley are the magic that made Good Omens such a beloved work of writing from two of the most loved to put word to page. Staying true to the source material, at least in this first episode, with the help of Tenant and Sheen, that magic is redirected on the small screen in a way that captures the spirit, if not the intent, of Gaiman and Pratchett. And for that alone, Good Omens: “In the Beginning” is the perfect starting point for those who have yet to be immersed into this wonderful work of art.
Good Omens – “In the Beginning”