Let’s talk about God. Or, rather, the Voice of God.
The Voice of God is the first thing we hear in the delightful Amazon and BBC series Good Omens. Played by the great Frances McDormand, the Voice of God creates the impression of a warm, lighthearted higher power who is also utterly unpredictable.
Within just a few seconds of knowing her, McDormand’s God lets us know exactly what we’re in for. Good Omens is set at the brink of Armageddon — the coming of the Antichrist, the ride of the Four Horsemen, the great war between Heaven and Hell, etcetera, etcetera — and the fate of an oblivious humankind hangs in the balance. But God at least has a fantastic sense of humor about it all, which we could stand to learn a thing or two from.
Good Omens posits that it never hurts to laugh in the face of the apocalypse — or drive 90 miles per hour on busy city streets, blasting Queen’s greatest hits. Confronting the genuinely existential crises that spring forth when the world is ending would otherwise be a very bleak affair. Starring Michael Sheen and David Tennant as the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley, respectively, Good Omens follows the unlikely pair’s race to stop the unwitting Antichrist (a sweet 11-year-old boy named Adam, played by Sam Taylor Buck) and put an end to said Armageddon.
The series is based on the 1990 novel Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, and the central relationship between Crowley and Aziraphale is often considered to mirror the real-life friendship of authors Neil Gaiman and the late Terry Pratchett. The possibility of a screen adaptation of Good Omens floated around Hollywood for years, but Gaiman insisted it would never happen after Pratchett’s death in 2015. Thinking ahead, however, Pratchett left Gaiman a letter giving his blessing to move forward with an adaptation, trusting his old friend to get it done right. Gaiman adapted the book for television himself and also stepped into the role of showrunner and executive producer.
In Good Omens, Tennant’s Crowley, a smooth-talking, red-headed demon with a penchant for wearing sunglasses indoors, is a perfect foil to Sheen’s bookish, buttoned-up, white-haired angel. Soldiers of Heaven and Hell, the two are naturally diametrically opposed. Much to their chagrin, they are also best friends. Both actors turn in excellent performances as old pals torn between enlisting in opposing sides of a supernatural war or saving the mortal world — and their friendship.
Early on, we are told the former is inevitable, and the latter is impossible. But Crowley and Aziraphale’s journey together — which begins in the Garden of Eden and takes us through Ancient Rome, Shakespearean England, and the French Revolution up to modern-day London — already undermines that assumption. Their quest to put an end to the end of the world introduces the biggest of our universe’s Big Questions: do we actually have any say in any of *gestures vaguely* this, this life nonsense, or are we collectively marching towards our immutable, preordained fate?
Good Omens is not especially bothered to come up with an answer; instead, its main preoccupation is the question itself, and the choices people make when faced with the premise. This theme ripples across the series. Does the Antichrist have to fulfil his father Satan’s will, or can Adam choose to embrace a life with his human parents, friends, and pet hellhound-turned-terrier? Does a descendant of the powerful witch Agnes Nutter, who accurately prophesied centuries’ worth of events, have to live by her many-great-grandmother’s predictions, or can she choose to shape her own future? From Armageddon to nuclear warfare and climate change, do we have to accept the world when it’s falling apart, or can we choose to step up and fix what is so clearly broken?
It’s a lot to process, yes, but even the heavier subject material feels effervescent in this quirky, irreverent world. Good Omens is a satisfying watch, a fast, whip-smart show largely loyal to its source material, with a few tweaks and additions. This prominently includes the expanded role of the archangel Gabriel, played with a politician’s smile and just the right amount of condescending smarm by a very game Jon Hamm. As Aziraphale’s boss, Gabriel represents The Plan: in his vividly violet eyes, we are but cogs in a greater machine.
Good Omens keenly understands human behavior, even among angels and demons (who, in this world, are more human than they’d care to admit). It understands how love and friendship can drive us to previously unknown lengths, and how these, well, ineffable human connections inspire hope — hope that maybe, just maybe, our thoughts and feelings and actions can make even the slightest difference in our little corner of the universe.
After all, it might be a pointless, nihilistic exercise to bet against the will and whims of an unseen higher power. But Aziraphale and Crowley are still taking those odds, doing just as we would: breaking the rules and saving the world for each other, Great and Ineffable Plans be damned.