Good Omens: Cataline Recommends with Reservations

The following discussion took place in Cataline’s car back in late 1980 something.

Buddy (holding up a cassette tape): Dude, I didn’t know you were a Queen fan.

Cataline: Dude, I’m not.

Buddy: Then where did this come from?

Cataline: I have no fucking idea. It just sort of… Appeared one day.

Buddy: Same thing happened to me.

Cataline: Weird huh?

I never really thought about it again until the first time I read Good Omens by the late Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaimen and I ran into this; “All tapes left in a car for more than about a fortnight metamorphose into Best of Queen albums.”

I nearly fell on the floor laughing at that one and it wasn’t the last time reading that book. Turns out that among other things, Creationism is entirely accurate, Dinosaur fossils are a joke God is playing on paleontologists and that the Earth is a Libra.

When I was dating Lady Cataline, I strong armed her into reading it. She rolled her eyes and started thumbing through it. I still remember her stumbling out the bedroom with tears running down her cheeks. “I’m Pe…People Cov…ered In Fish.” And she fell down on the couch next to me laughing uncontrollably.

Good Omens is one of those books that if you get it, you really get it. If you dont’ then you are sad and I want nothing to do with you.

Some of the jokes from thirty years ago are now dated which is a tragedy. But Good Omens remains one of my favorite books of all time… Even though I haven’t read it in years.

You see, like the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I memorized all the jokes, decades ago. So I could actually approach this new series with something close to a fresh outlook because, fortunately, I have half forgotten a lot of the material.

I was honestly, very worried about this show. The trailers didn’t look too promising

My first Impressions were fairly positive. I didn’t fall down laughing at anything because like I said, I have half-memories of all the jokes. However, this show seemed at first to be extremely, ( in fact exceptionally,) respectful of the source material. The first episode’s screenplay appeared to be a nearly word for word translation to the screen.

David Tennant was absolutely running away with the show. His turn as Crowley looked like it was going to finally be the role that let him outshine his past as Doctor Who. He was absolutely dead on in his portrayal of a demon that who really does love humanity and whose best friend is angel. Crowley was the Snake in the Garden of Eden and Tennant makes an effort to shamblingly slither when he walks.

Michael Sheen on the other hand is sadly, less interesting as Aziraphale. Although he really nails coming across as a fussy used bookstore owner that hates selling his books and is “Gayer than a tree full of monkeys on nitrous oxide.”

They have gotten a lot of the sets, props and costuming right. That matters a lot when setting a tone and the production came through on that. Crowley’s 1926 Bentley was featured prominently in the book and looks nearly perfect for it’s role here. “I had it from new, you know. It wasn’t a car, it was more a sort of whole body glove.”

At this point readers of mine are probably asking: Is SJWism present?

Answer: Does a duck shit in the water? Of course it’s present. There is no way in hell it wouldn’t be but it seems to have been limited to the now de rigueur race bent casting decisions. However these weren’t so egregious as to take me out of the story like in Troy: Fall of a City. I was actually relieved that both Adam and Eve were black, as a opposed to a modern and woke mix-raced couple, as few would argue that the Garden of Eden was in Norway.

However, what I was really sniffing around for was an alteration in the story that would turn a book that was reasonably respectful of Christianity into a present day TV show that was sneering at it. It never quite did that or at least it was no worse than Monty Python’s The Life of Brian.

That was the first episode. It wasn’t bad but it had a fundamental problem. None of Pratchett’s works lend themselves to the screen. His story telling style and the narrative structures don’t work well with a screenplay format. Every adaptation of his stories that have made it to the screen have been problematic in their own way. Good Omens ran into the same thing… On a number of different levels.

Prattchett wasn’t big on specific descriptions. Sure you could see a picture and think to yourself, that’s definitely Granny Weatherwax or Sam Vimes or Nanny Ogg but there was never any guarantee that if you showed someone else the same picture that they would agree with you.

Yet, people kept trying.

Hogfather, Johnny Maxwell, Going Postal. Pratchett fans could always spot some fan service that got directed their way but truthfully that was about all they got out of it.

The animated shows from early 1990-something were about as close as anyone ever got and they really wasn’t that close.

Neil Gaiman’s works have the same problem. Fanservice can be delivered. A few well known elements of the book can be shot and put on the screen but the whole of the story and how it made you feel never makes it off the written page.

Anyway, on to Good Omens.

Casting was a problem for this show as well. The fundamental challenge of casting is that the actor chosen can only deliver what his talent set provides and it’s never easy to find the perfect fit. James Bond for instance is notoriously difficult to cast, which is why they keep bringing back established Bonds well past their sell-by date. Now, Crowley they got right. I’ve already praised David Tennant’s performance to the rafters. That said, I wasn’t wild about Michael Sheen’s turn as Aziraphale, it had looked promising in the first episode but it didn’t meet the promise.

Although, there is a story going around that there was more to the issue. Allegedly, Jon Hamm was a major ramrod for this project and he originally cast himself to play Aziraphale. Everything was fine until the cameras started rolling and it became brutally obvious that he was completely miscast. Hamm supposedly couldn’t carry the role at all. So he took the fairly minor role of Gabriel and Sheen was allegedly brought in at the last second. The essential issue is that right now there is simply no one established that can play the part. Thirty years ago Derek Jacobi could have done it but he just turned 80. Sometimes the actor you got is the actor you got. Sheen did his best but I just wasn’t wild about it. It was a hip shoot casting decision and it showed.

Some changes had to be made to the story structure to allow for a coherent screenplay. Some tropes had to be followed just to create an intelligible narrative for people who hadn’t read the book. Since this was clearly a buddy show, there had to be a point where the buddies had a major falling out. That wasn’t in the book at all. The forces of Heaven didn’t have any kind of anthropomorphic personification in the book, so Gabriel was created to be Captain of the Host, (even though Michael usually has that job but whatever) just so Aziraphale had someone whose orders he could defy. There was also a need to create a counterpoint to Hastur. which Gabriel did fit quite nicely

These additions and the more hostile relationship with the protagonists created a need for a post climax denouement that wasn’t in the book either. That said, it did work fairly well and I was actually surprised by the surprise ending. They played fair and it was a good twist. I liked that part

Another casting choice that I didn’t care for and that was for the part of Pepper. I try not to be critical of child actors because they are even harder to get right than grownups and maybe Bella Ramsey’s people weren’t interested in her playing such a minor role. That said, it was an important part and they got it wrong.

On the plus side, Michael Keenan did a decent job with Witch-Finder Sergeant Shadwell and I loved Miranda Richardson as Madame Traci, (mostly because I love Miranda Richardson on general principle). The show did a great job with Crowley’s 1926 Bentley. Sadly, the Best of Queen joke was unsalvageable so it just went around playing Freddie Mercury songs at random. I guess it was apology fanservice. They couldn’t do anything with the People Covered in Fish joke either, which was irritating because I was promised a shower of fish in the trailer and they didn’t deliver on that.

Just to be clear, I didn’t really disapprove of most of the changes. I can understand why the screen writers made them. Most were as true to the book as they could be. For instance in episode three, you get to see to Crowley and Aziriphale’s friendship develop through out the millennia. These were all based on Pratchett’ famous footnote jokes and were never meant to be used to form a cohesive story but the writer’s did a creditable job with it.

What it all boils down to here is that I wanted to love this show and I didn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, we aren’t talking the last season of Game of Thrones here. Not loving it doesn’t equal hating it.

If you loved the book it’s worth a look. All said and done it’s a B or maybe a B+ but that’s as good as it could get.

One thought on “Good Omens: Cataline Recommends with Reservations

  1. from your previous column….”The Good: David Tennant is absolutely running away with this show. His turn as Crowley is going to finally be the role that lets him outshine his past as the Doctor.”

    My daughter ran across this…

    You know, a lot of actors find a particular niche to inhabit when it comes to their roles but you really got to hand it to David Tennant for somehow landing the absurdly specific category of “immortals that rebelled against their oppressive and bureaucratic people because they accidentally became too fond of the human race and also have a quasi-telepathic bond with a vehicle.””


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