click to enlarge Michael Sheen and David Tennant in Good Omens

Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios

Michael Sheen and David Tennant in Good Omens

Amazon's Good Omens is a faithful adaptation of the cult favorite Neil Gaiman-Terry Pratchett novel, for better and worse 

Devilishly good

Adapting books for film and television is a tricky business. You have to balance the expectations of fans of the book with those of an audience who isn't familiar with the material. By satisfying one, you risk alienating the other. (And it's still possible to satisfy neither, am I right, Game of Thrones?) Good Omens, the new Amazon miniseries based on a beloved comedy-fantasy book by genre luminaries Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, definitely errs toward satisfying lovers of the original material, but thankfully, that material was already really strong to begin with.

The miniseries follows the story of an angel, Aziraphale (Michael Sheen), and a demon, Crowley (David Tennant), who strike up an odd friendship in the Garden of Eden. They both become so enamored of earthly delights – for Aziraphale, this means haute cuisine and musty bookshops; for Crowley, rock & roll and fast cars – that when the End Times begin, they try to sabotage the chain of events to have some more time with sushi and Queen. Central to that chain of events is figuring out where the Antichrist is. Due to a wacky mix-up situation at a Satanic convent – yes, it's that kind of story – the Antichrist is not placed with the family of a U.S. diplomat, but with a suburban, middle-class British family.

Thrown into the mix are a misguided witch hunter (Michael McKean, speaking with a literally unbelievable Scottish accent); his hapless apprentice, Newton Pulsifer (Jack Whitehall); a young witch, Anathema Device (Adria Arjona) and a book of accurate, but oddly specific, prophecies written by Device's ancestor.

There seems to be a lot of love for the original novel in the miniseries, which makes sense considering Gaiman himself is credited with the screenplay. (Pratchett, unfortunately, died in 2015.) Sheen and Tennant are an absolute delight in their roles as the central odd couple, and the script nails the tone of the material nicely.

The only problems with the show are tied to the problems of being too faithful to the source material. The omniscient narrator – voiced by Frances McDormand – has a tendency to jump through time for various asides and extraneous information. While this results in plenty of laughs when reading off the page, it can sap the filmic narrative of momentum. Additionally, the romance that blossoms between Pulsifer, the witchfinder's assistant, and Device, the witch, doesn't have enough meat on it in the book to translate well to the screen. And on the technical side, there's some CG in this miniseries that will make you wonder if it was made in 1990, the same year the book was published, though it's possible that what critics saw was just stand-in animation.

Despite these flaws, Good Omens comes out on top. Fans of the book are going to be happy with its preservation of Pratchett and Gaiman's story and wit. And those who aren't fans yet will be able to see why the book is so highly regarded. Now if only we could only get an adaptation of Pratchett's Discworld series that we could say the same about.

tmccollum@orlandoweekly.com

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