Watching Game of Thrones the last few years trained me into a particular habit that I’m sure I’m not alone in – after watching the show and either blogging or tweeting about it that night, I’d get up in the morning, go into work, and open up Buzzfeed or i09 for Hot Takes to either expand my understanding of the media, or find someone to argue with.
Imagine my complete and utter shock this morning when I, coffee in hand, could find nothing on either of those sites about Amazon’s recent adaptation of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens. Twitter was ablaze, but I can only get so much work done with one eye on my desktop and one eye on my phone. Where were the memes? Where were the takes, Hot, Cold, or otherwise? Mysteries abounded. [Editor’s Note – I started this entry on Monday, when takes were scarce. Now, they are bountiful.]
That said, HERE. HERE is a place for discussion and fandom and Hot Takes! HERE! And in deference to folks with lives who didn’t sit on their butts all weekend and watch it twice (ME! I’m talking about MEEEE), spoilers will go under the cut.
To start with, the show perfectly adapted the feel, themes, and humor of the book. Granted, I haven’t reread the book in like 15 years (my parents borrowed it and thence it fell into Shadow in the abyssal plane known as their Computer Room) but what I do remember was not only perfectly realized, it was also uncanny in how timely many of the big themes and anxieties are, despite the book being almost thirty years old. Nuclear power, conservation, the military-industrial complex, and climate change are all explored in the novel and show. And while it may be tempting to claim ‘Aaaargh that just shows how little things have changed!’ consider how many countries are going like gangbusters on Dat Renewable Energy. I mean the US is currently backsliding due to a cartoonishly evil, mustache-twirling cabal of morally bankrupt oligarchs, but let’s put that aside for a moment.
ANYWAY, the show!
The Dramatis Personaeaeaeae
David Tennant improves anything. That’s a fact. But that can also be a drawback; if he’s the most interesting thing onscreen (whether you’re a Whovian or just a fan) it means that when he’s NOT onscreen in certain media, you start noticing just how weak the show is.
Happily and almost incredibly, that is not the case in Good Omens. The cast was almost ludicrously good, everyone from Derek Jacobi as the Metatron to Adam and Eve and Jesus. And since everyone has marvelous material to work with, there’s not a moment of the show that doesn’t feel thin or boring. (Well… I could have done with less of the kids [except Pepper, who was great] but watching children wrestle with philosophy and moral relativism isn’t my idea of a good time.)
For example, Even though I like Michael Sheen, I was sure I’d be zoning out on Aziraphale’s moments.
Instead, Aziraphale is an incredibly strongly written and likable character. The reason why is complicated, and has to do with how portrayals of male relationships have changed. On the surface, Aziraphale is a natty fussbudget, and I’m SURE twenty-five years ago he’d have been played for laughs as closeted gay, a la Smithers from The Simpsons. While there is a joke about Aziraphale learning the Gavotte in a ‘discreet men’s club’ (HELLO YES I AM READING YOUR SECRET GAY MESSAGING LOUD AND CLEAR) he is otherwise treated with as much dignity and depth of character as a natty fussbudget can manage. While the viewer wants to be Crowley, with his sexy swagger, leather pants, and multitude of hairstyles, it’s kind, soft-hearted Aziraphale the viewer most identifies with, because even though he’s an angel, he’s also a good person, a distinction the show makes from the very start. For all that the ‘Good Guys’ are angels, they are also kind of … well… huge judgmental dicks.
Quite honestly, the heart of the story is and always has been the relationship that grows between these Crowley and Aziraphale as their assignment on Earth moves them farther and farther from their non-human roots. It’s about mutual respect, trust, and ultimately love, and I think that while the signs of a romantic relationship are all there (1. Aziraphale strongly protests when Crowley is called his friend but not when Crowley is called his boyfriend; 2. Crowley offers Aziraphale a place after the shop burns down; 3. Everything they’ve been through! 4. The showrunners say so) not making the gay relationship explicit also opens up the possibility for male friendships that are emotionally supportive and based on respect instead of the dreaded toxic masculinity of Bro-Code. I’m not saying that reading them gay is wrong either – but sometimes drawing fewer lines means getting more people on your side.
The rest of the cast are just as effective in their delivery. Ned Dennehy as frog-hatted Hastur actually stole some scenes from Tennant – no small feat, but definitely an outcome when casting seasoned, professional actors instead of just attractive stars. Dennehy was fantastic as Ebeneezer Scrooge in the BBC’s Dickensian, although the show’s premature cancellation means we only saw him in Heartless Victorian Miser mode, and I haven’t gotten into Peaky Blinders yet which he is apparently also in. Ariyon Bakare as Ligur unfortunately didn’t get as many lines as Hastur, which is a shame because Mr. Bakare was amazing in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, another magic-infused BBC adaptation I highly recommend.
So Much to Love
The production design also leapt out, from the clothing to the sets. Aziraphale’s Bookshop is a place I’d like to visit, or I would explore Crowley’s weirdo mausoleum apartment with its random treasures and terrified plants. Or Anathema Device’s rental cottage and all her witchy steampunk junk. Eden! I would actually like to hang out in Eden! There’s a first!
Although the penultimate battle between the Four Horsemen and the Them felt weak, I really appreciated the resolution with Satan (a barely recognizable Benedict Cumberbatch). I thought Mireille Enos looked a bit rough as War, as if her lighting was bad or her makeup wasn’t quite right, but I could also be picky.
In all, except for a very arch approach to Christianity and a few droppings of THE EFF WORD I found Good Omens to be not just a perfect adaptation, but utterly refreshing. The last scene of Aziraphale and Crowley enjoying dinner at the Ritz while Tori Amos, in a voice like hot dark chocolate, purred about a nightingale singing in Barkley Square actually warmed my heart and brought a happy tear to my eye, something that hasn’t happened in quite a while, either.