I have been a devotee of Good Omens for the majority of my life. It is among my favorite books… ever? I’m going with ever. I was deeply entrenched in the fandom in college, and never miss an excuse to drag out my copy and read bits aloud. And in all the time I’ve been enamored, there have been rumors about this and that adaptation. Films and treatments and whispers and actors ranging from Robin Williams to Johnny Depp and beyond. The eventual audio drama. And then, finally, after years of waiting, we received what we deserved.
It’s the end of the world, my dears. And who could have predicted how delightful it would turn out to be?
As a translation of the book to television, the show works gorgeously. Finding that middle ground between being too slavish to the original or driving off the map entirely is a hard ground to find in every project of this scope, but Neil Gaiman’s scripts, Douglas Mackinnon’s direction, and a some superb casting have done right by the book (and the late, demonstrably great Terry Pratchett, who coauthored the book with Gaiman). What’s more, the show maintains the spirit of the story, which is perhaps the hardest thing to do when adapting between mediums—even moreso when the originating material has a very fixed and unique sense of humor.
Add in a delightful score from David Arnold, and a refusal to pad out the narrative beyond reason (the show clocks in at a lean, mean six episodes, which is just the right amount to ensure that you miss it the instant it’s gone), and you have a perfect weekend’s worth of binge-watching. Whether you’re a fan of the book who enjoys the opportunity to see characters come to life, or you’ve never gotten around to cracking it open and have been wondering what all the fuss is about, Good Omens is just damn good fun all the way around.
There are a few pieces from the book that feel a tiny bit undersold in the show, and it’s hard not to wonder if that’s down to not having Pratchett with us any longer. While the book was cowritten in such a way that much of story had both authors hands in it, they did admit from time to time that they each favored certain portions. One of those bits that Pratchett admitted to favoring was Adam and his gang, the Them, who are a little underwritten and underused overall in the series. (Of course, this might also have to do with needing to use the kids less for the sake of shooting schedule laws, which are far more complicated when it comes to child actors.) While we get the basics of the Antichrist’s story, some of the nuance gets lost in the translation, particularly as it relates to his friends and their history prior to the main events of the show.
Of course, the characters who get much more of the spotlight are unarguably the most adored by Good Omens fans—the demon Crowley (played to hissing, sashaying perfection by David Tennant) and his angel co-conspirator Aziraphale (an utterly cherubic Michael Sheen). Having said that, the execution of the duo’s story was something of a shock for a fan like me, who will freely admit to shipping the heck out of the pair for ages, and even reading and writing fanfic to that end. A bunch of it. And also to dressing up as Crowley and Aziraphale for Halloween with my partner. It’s well known that Crowley/Aziraphale shippers are a sizable contingent of the Good Omens fandom, to the point where both Gaiman and Pratchett had made note that they were aware of it, with Gaiman recently noting that fanfiction and its ilk is also Making Stuff Up, which is the same as all writing—though they did say that making the duo a couple was not their intent when they wrote the book.
Which is fascinating because this miniseries is emphatically a love story.
[SPOILERS for the series below]
I know, I know: They say they’re friends, what’s wrong with friendship, you friend-hating fiend. But there are endless stories dedicated to platonic friendships between two male friends. (Or male-seeming in this case, as they are truly an angel and a demon, which then ultimately begs the question of whether conventional sexuality or gender should even apply for the two of them, and it likely shouldn’t, but that’s a fairly long digression…) While modern fiction seems to have a hard time understanding that it’s possible for men and women to “just be very good friends”, the precise opposite can be said for queer people. We’re always presumed to be “just very good friends” and nothing besides. Having said that, it is entirely possible for people of the same (or similar) gender to go from being true best friends to being in a relationship of some sort. It is also possible to say “you’re my best friend” and actually mean “I love you” or even “I’m in love with you.”
Exhibit A, when Crowley is making his way to Aziraphale’s flaming bookshop (he doesn’t know about the fire yet), the Bentley is playing Queen’s “You’re My Best Friend”—which is not an ode to frienship in general, but in fact a love song written by Queen’s bassist for his wife. Immediately thereafter, Crowley arrives and opens the doors to the bookshop, and being unable find the angel, promptly has a complete breakdown over the what he assumes to be Aziraphale’s death. It’s not the shock or disbelief over losing a friend that we can see in Crowley’s face, but utter desolation. “Somebody killed my best friend!” he screams, slumped on the floor in anguish. (Again, I remind you, John Deacon’s friend in the song that served as the cue for this whole scene was his spouse.) Crowley then immediately goes to a pub to get trashed, forgetting his plans to escape the Earth before the true Final Countdown because he’s just lost the most important person in all of creation to him… wait sorry, that’s Creation with a capital ‘C’.
The point is (as Crowley would say, drunkenly, before beginning a long-winded aside about dolphins), the entirety of the Good Omens miniseries unfolds with all the beats you’d expect of a romantic comedy/epic, and that is very much the hinge on which its enjoyability swings. It’s not just the song selection—“Somebody to Love” starts playing when Crowley exits the bookshop, believing that he’s lost Aziraphale; violins swell when the demon reveals to the angel that he has saved his beloved books from a bombing during the London Blitz in 1941—but the entirety of the plot. These alterations to the story seem to reach some sort of zenith during the deep dive into Crowley and Azirapahle’s “Arrangement” in episode three. The opening half hour of the episode works hard to create greater context for their six-thousand-year partnership, tracking them through the ages, and finally closes out in 1967 with the angel handing over a thermos of holy water to his dear friend, saying sadly “You go too fast for me, Crowley.”
He’s talking about Crowley’s driving. But of course he isn’t, because there is no context on this earth in which the words “you go too fast for me” are about being in a car, friends.
This is the part where the usual suspects roll their eyes because culture has endlessly enforced the idea that queerness is conditional and that “slash goggles” (i.e. viewing not-canonically-comfirmed characters as queer) should be derided and that the only person who should get a say in the sexuality of characters is the author—unless the author flat-out says their characters are queer, in which case, they should have made it more obvious if they expected anyone to believe that.
But this pairing is pretty damned (sorry, blessedly) obvious. It’s obvious in the way the Aziraphale bats his eyelashes at Crowley and grumps about the fact that his pristine old jacket now has paint on it, then smiles beatifically when the demon vanishes the stain by blowing gently on his shoulder—both of them knowing full well that Aziraphale can remove the stain himself with angelic will. It’s obvious in how angry Crowley gets when Aziraphale claims he’s “nice”, and Crowley shoves him up against a wall in a standard intimidation tactic that the angel barely registers as fury. It’s obvious in the way that Crowley sits across Aziraphale with a drink every time they’re out, and simply watches the angel indulge in rich foods. It’s right there even at the start, when the Angel of the Eastern Gate shelters the Serpent of Eden from the world’s very first rainstorm with one of his wings, through they both have a perfectly functional set to themselves.
We’re at a point in time where more and more writers and creators are perfectly aware that fans will see characters as queer whether they are written explicitly that way or not. Being aware of this—and not having anything against queer people—many of them say something to the tune of “you can view this relationship however you like, we’re cool with that”. It’s very nice. To some extent, it’s even incredibly helpful, because being okay with the queering of characters goes a long way in telling homophobic people that their vitriol toward queerness isn’t welcome. But when a huge swath of a fandom is queer, and certain characters are commonly rendered as queer to most of those fans, and then we are given a version of the story in which interpreting those characters as just great buddies is honestly taxing to one’s logical faculties… well, it’s hard not to wonder at what point the “straight” view of said characters is likely destined to become a minority interpretation one day.
Which is precisely where I found myself while watching Good Omens.
This clarity kept turning up and tuning in, even in the terms of their dear Arrangement; after Crowley suggests that they start doing work on each other’s behalves during a run-in in the 6th century, another meeting at The Globe in Shakespeare’s day sees Crowley bringing it up again, only to have Aziraphale try and shoot the idea down. “We’ve done it before… dozens of times now,” the demon wheedles, and he might as well be saying “But we’ve made out a lot lately, I think it’s time to accept that you like hanging out with me.” To make up for sending Aziraphale to Edinburgh, he agrees to infernally intervene to ensure that the Bard’s latest play (Hamlet) is a rousing success—and again, the angel offers up that ethereal smile and Crowley takes it as his compensation, as though it’s all he ever wanted in the world.
People may cry, stop shoving your sexuality in other people’s faces! (They always do, like a reliable clock striking the hour with a very irritating chime that you can’t seem to turn off.) But that’s hardly the point, is it? Because I didn’t say anything about sex, I said they were in love. And I’m having a very hard time finding any evidence to the contrary.
Critics and most of the internet have noticed how romantic the show is. The actors did as well, and talked endlessly of it in interviews. The series gives us longing glances and a messy breakup and drunken mourning and a canonical bodyswap (the stuff of fanfic dreams, my lovelies) where Aziraphale strips Crowley’s body down to its undergarments for the purpose of taunting Hell. At the point when everything threatens to blow up in their faces, Crowley asks—sorry no, he begs—Aziraphale to run away with him. And then when it’s all over, he invites the angel to spend the night at his place, and Aziraphale’s response is “I don’t think my side would like that” which is basically divine-speak for “I came out to my family and they’re not cool with it, so I’m not sure this is gonna work.” This has all the markings of the sort of Shakespeare play that Crowley appreciates: the funny ones where no one dies. And it ends on our couple having a lovely lunch in a fancy locale while a swoony love standard plays on in the background.
It’s odd to think that the fact that it took over two decades to produce a Good Omens series is part of the reason why the romantic aspect seems more unabashed than ever; in the book, plenty of people think Aziraphale is gay and that the angel and demon are a couple, but it’s done with that wink and nudge that was common around the turn of the century. These days, teasing at the idea that your core duo might seem a little gay to onlookers doesn’t constitute a ready joke because there’s nothing particularly funny about that suggestion when queer folks are fighting so hard to be seen and represented. And the lack of those winky moments, the way the story simply takes their codependency as a sweet given, makes Aziraphale and Crowley read even more genuinely as a pair. But if you had told me this was the version of Good Omens that I’d see in 2019, I’d have never believed a word. I was ready for extra background, more story, different jokes, but not this. Not confirmation that there are other angels and demons exchanging information and working together in Crowley and Aziraphale’s reality, but Heaven and Hell have a specific problem with their partnership because they clearly love each other too much.
And sure, you can read the story differently. You can choose to ignore those cues and enjoy a story about two very good friends who help to avert the apocalypse. I’m sure for some, that’s a more enjoyable take. But I’m more curious about whether or not, in twenty or thirty years time, people will think of the Good Omens series as anything but the story of an angel and a demon who spent six millennia figuring out that they should probably buy that cottage on the South Downs together.
Originally published in June 2019.
A Good Omens sequel series has just been announced.