AUGUST POP CULTURE WITH DENNIS GREENE: GOOD OMENS

GOOD OMENS : A Unique “Buddy” TV Series

by Dennis Greene

            I have a special fondness for so-called “buddy-films”, and so, apparently, do lots of others. These movies depend on a special chemistry between the two protagonists, who are usually portrayed by exceptionally talented actors, and, of course, a brilliant script and strong supporting cast are also required. Some of my favorites include Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The African Queen, The Odd Couple, Thelma and Louise, Some Like it Hot, Midnight Cowboy, and, more recently, Frankie and Grace. I have now added Good Omens to my list.

Amazon’s new series, Good Omens, is a six-hour feel-good delight created through the collaboration of two supremely talented writers–Sir Terry Pratchett (Discworld) and Neil Gaiman (American Gods). Their book, Good OmensThe Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, was published in 1992. You can almost visualize the fun shared by these two then little-known writers, (who were to become recognized as masters of fantasy and comedy), as they communicated back and forth long distance thirty years ago to try and top one another with comic insights and visions. Gaiman, who excelled at creating elaborate worlds and portraying cosmic conflict, wrote the original draft of this biblical themed romp. It chronicled the development of the six thousand year relationship between Aziraphale, the angel who, since Creation, was God’s representative on earth and Crowley (formerly “Crawly”) the demon  who, in the form of a snake, tempted Eve with the apple, and then served Satan as his representative on earth. Each was charged by their respective side (i.e. Heaven or Hell) with preparing earth for the arrival of the Antichrist and for the Apocalypse, when the war between Heaven and Hell is to commence and earth and its human inhabitants destroyed.

Pratchett, a friend of Gaiman’s and a genius at writing absurdist comedy featuring quirky characters, liked the story. He told Gaiman that he knew what should happen next and then made a proposal. Either Gaiman must sell Pratchett the rights to the story so Pratchett could finish it or Gaiman must agree that he and Pratchett would work together on it. Fortunately for us, Gaiman chose the latter.  So Good Omens reflects two “buddy” stories, the fictional tale of Aziraphale and Crowley and the real-life friendship of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. In an interview, Gaiman offered the following example of their collaboration.

“I had written the following line spoken by a minor character: ‘When I was courting my wife, we would sometimes lay by that river and spooned.’

After reading the line, Terry called me and said, “I  have just added a few words and made it 17% better.” The modified line read, ‘When I was courting my wife, we would sometimes lay by the river and spooned, and, on one memorable occasion, we forked.’

             Terry had made the line 100% better.

Before his death in 2015, Pratchett made Gaiman promise to see that Good Omens was made into a film, and Gaiman carried out his friend’s wish. He wrote the screenplay for all six episodes, sticking closely to the book, and was involved every step of the way in order to honor “the gentle, sensitive incredibly articulate voice” of his friend which Gaiman felt presented “our best selves in the voice of the book”.  I suspect Pratchett would say he was successful.

One reviewer noted that “At its best, Good Omens is a cosmic gay romantic-comedy, with bad boy Crowley tempting Aziraphale to get out of his comfort zone and enjoy life, while Aziraphale simultaneously lures Crowley into being a better, less selfish individual. The series is intelligent story-telling and certainly not for everyone. Fundamental Christians and others who think the Bible is “history” (i. e. true) rather than fiction may be offended.  Others may be put off by hearing the voice of a woman, Francis McDormand, as God. But for the rest of us, the Good Omens series is a masterpiece. Mike Hale, in a review in The Times noted that Good Omens has the wit and good sense to mock The Sound of Music, and, for that alone, it deserves an Emmy. A soundtrack which features Freddy Mercury’s Bohemian Rhapsody is also notable. One reviewer called Good Omens “fluffy and fun, an antidote to The Game of Thrones

After rushing through a brief collage of significant events in history, in which our two immortals act to promulgate their respective ends, the action moves to the ten days before Armagedden. We don’t know the exact date, but cell phones have been invented, and Pollution has replaced Pestilence as one of the Four Horsemen. (Pestilence was retired after penicillin was invented.) Our friend Crowley lists as one his evil accomplishments, the invention of the “selfie.”

After six thousand years on earth, both Aziraphale and Crowley have come to enjoy their lives here and have become friends. They recognize that, after the Apocalypse, there will no longer be sushi, crepes, Queen, Crowley’s classic Bentley or lunches at the Ritz. They don’t accept the inevitability of the Apocalypse or accept that God’s plan is “ineffable” and conspire to prevent Armageddon, if possible. This alchemic combination of good and evil drives the action while the future of humanity hangs in the balance. The show is a pitch perfect pairing of David Tennant and Michael Sheen

Sheen (Masters of Sex and The Good Wife) and Tennant ( the tenth Dr. Who , Hamlet) are two superb actors who bring this unlikely friendship to life and make it believable. But they don’t do it alone. There is an enormous cast of well-known actors who amplify the story.  Among the faces you will recognize are Jon Hamm, Adria Ariona, Miranda Richardson, Michael McKean, and Derek Jacobi. And there are a number of supporting story lines which proceed at a rapid pace. One story involves the coming of age of “the Antichrist,” who, while a newborn under the care of Sister Loquacious, a Satanic Nun, was mistakenly switched with a very ordinary human baby and has become lost. This boy is essential to causing the Apocalypse and is now sought by the minions of both Heaven and Hell. Meanwhile, Adam, the eleven year old Antichrist, is living an ordinary eleven-year-old’s life in a small town with a small group of friends who are strikingly similar to the Stranger Things gang.  Another story line involves the romance between Anathama Device, a descendant of Agnes Nutter, the only witch whose prophecies were always correct, and Newton Pulsifer, a decendant of Thou-Shall-Not-Commit-Adultery Pulsifer, the witch-hunter who burned Anathama’s ancestor Agnes. A third story involves a charming romance between an aging and slightly demented witch-hunter (portrayed by Michael McKean) and an attractive, mature psychic and brothel owner (played by Miranda Richardson).  There is lots of over the top comedy and very little subtlety in this irreverent and sweetly amusing narrative.

One reviewer noted that Tennant and Sheen “are so emphatically into their roles that they make each hour-long episode fly by and the absolute need for a second season apparent, … if for no other reason than to keep this disparate duo meeting throughout history to enjoy each other’s company.  In Good Omens, the alchemic bonding of Patchett’s and Gaiman’s world views have combined to produce a story that is pure gold.  Of course, the combination of Aziraphale and Crowley to form the perfect counter to the Apocalypse also reeks of alchemic influence.

If the evolving relationship between Aziraphale and Crowley intrigues you, and you enjoy fantasy and sweet-natured comic absurdity, with brief appearances by the Kraken and  the Lost City of Atlantis, take a peek at this uplifting feel-good comedy.

Rumor has it that God has given it four and a half stars.

“BOLLI Matters” feature writer Dennis Greene

 

 

 

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