This review contains spoilers.
As Neil Gaiman explained at the Good Omens London premiere, when he began turning his and Terry Pratchett’s 300-page novel into six TV episodes, he started by chopping the book into 50-page sections. So divided, he found that the third section would barely feature Crowley and Aziraphale – a grave mistake, anyone would agree – so he set aside half of that episode just for them.
The result is a 30-minute long pre-credits sequence ranging from the Crucifixion to 1960s Soho, dipping in and out of their encounters through the centuries. In evidence of this show’s gloriously mad ambition, in between, we visit ancient Rome, Arthurian England, Shakespeare’s Globe, Revolutionary France and London’s Blitz.
It’s a behind-the-scenes extra for the novel, if you like, raiding both the celebrity pal address book, and Gaiman and Pratchett’s long-discarded plans for a sequel (proposed title: 668 – Neighbour Of The Beast). It’s a little bit Horrible Histories, a little bit Blackadder, a lot Monty Python and very Good Omens. A demon and an angel reach a pragmatic agreement, making light satirical comment on the benevolence of God and the notions of good and evil, while having what looks like a whale of a time with the dressing-up box.
Costume designer Claire Anderson is in charge of that, and what a job her team has done. Each iteration of Crowley, from robe-draped Mesopotamian to sharp-suited 1940s spy, is instantly him, while Aziraphale’s look makes him soft, fluffy and unguarded, like a walking cream tea. (Somehow Sheen even makes medieval armour seem cuddly.)
Unguarded is right, as we see Crowley rescue his angelic pal twice – once from the guillotine and once from dastardly Nazis (The League Of Gentlemen’s Mark Gatiss and Steve Pemberton – joined earlier by Reece Shearsmith as a dejected William Shakespeare whose new play Hamlet is is need of a miracle). Through an exchange of favours based on mutual indolence, a friendship, indeed a love story, builds, and we see exactly how the double-act evolved.
We didn’t need to see it, and having seen it, little is changed about our understanding of the relationship we met in episode one. Crowley’s holy water quest aside, very little of the plot is reliant on this half-hour story-stalling diversion, but few could complain. It’s an entertaining sketch-show romp showcasing the talents of our two leads (Tennant’s music hall hop down the burning consecrated church aisle was silly fun), and the lengths to which Good Omens will go for a gag (note to past self: Do not buy Peter Max.)
It also gave fans David Tennant’s reading of one of the novel’s most famous lines in Crowley’s protestation that he didn’t really fall, but just “sauntered vaguely downwards.” Lovely stuff.
A disjointed but entertaining episode three left us with everything poised to converge on Tadfield. Shadwell’s witchfinder ‘army’ is on its way (spot the Soul Music Pratchett nod in Crowley’s newspaper? And Vincent Prince as Matthew Hopkins on the cafe TVs?). Also activated is Famine (Yusuf Gatewood), styled as a sharp-suited gastronomic entrepreneur.
Fuelled by Anathema’s counter-culture magazines, the reality-bending powers of the antichrist child with the active imagination were also given a test run. Unwittingly, Adam Young replaced a nuclear reactor with a sherbet lemon in his sleep – the start of things to come. When he told his new occultist pal “this is my world,” he was not wrong.
Having a nice doomsday? Yes, thank you. Splendid.