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30 May 2019updated 03 Aug 2021 12:41pm

Amazon’s Good Omens is exhaustingly arch and terribly twee

By Michael Hodges

Lots of people are going to love Good Omens (Amazon Video, 31 May). Some will be fans of the 1990 novel by Neil Gaiman and the late Terry Pratchett on which it’s based (Gaiman has adapted, in six parts). Some will be those with major hots for David Tennant, who plays, in snake-eye contact lenses and with utmost sexiness and drawl, a demon called Crowley. I can see families watching it together: the kind of families with children, a little older now, who grew up on Harry Potter. I can also picture a certain type of bloke, one who almost certainly went to public school, laughing at its somewhat laboured, clever-dick jokes: the sort of man who liked Douglas Adams as a teenager, and maintains a working knowledge of Tudor history, if not of the more recherche books of the Old Testament.

But alas, I do not love Good Omens. The first episode, I will grudgingly admit, was mildly entertaining, largely because Tennant and Michael Sheen (who plays an angel called Aziraphale; expect to hear this name being called in a playground near you some time soon) are so good together. But once the novelty of their double act had worn off – Tennant channels a thin-as-a-streak-of-bacon rock star vibe; Sheen looks and sounds like the very kind and camp bastard child of Boris Johnson and Billy Bunter – weariness soon set in. Such archness. Such ostentatious charm and so-called wit. It made me feel like I wanted to suck the sugar from my teeth – and that’s even before the children had appeared.

But I’m racing ahead of myself. The story goes like this. On earth, Crowley, formerly the serpent who tempted Eve to eat an apple, and Aziraphale, once a guardian of the gates of Eden, have down the centuries grown rather forgetful of their duties as representatives of heaven and hell. Crowley likes roaring round in vintage cars; Aziraphale has developed a taste for fancy restaurants and fine claret. The news, then, that the Apocalypse is on its way is highly unwelcome, and so it comes to pass that they agree to keep an eye on the Antichrist – or at least, the child they believe to be the Antichrist – hoping that they will somehow put the kibosh on the whole End of Days thing.

Thanks to a mix up in the order of Satanic nuns to which the baby was reluctantly delivered by Crowley, they alight on the wrong kid at first. Only later will they discover that the real Antichrist, Adam, is living in a pretty village called Tadfield, where, unaware of his Occult powers, he spends his days making dens with his friends – the aforementioned children. I’m guessing this lot are some kind of homage to Just William’s Outlaws, but the result is, I’m afraid, a bit ghastly: a bunch of smart-alecky, entitled-sounding 21st century kids who nevertheless talk in the irritating, over-enunciated RP of yesteryear. I don’t particularly care, at this point, whether Adam is the actual Antichrist. Metaphorically-speaking, he certainly is. To return to my teeth, he sets them right on edge. 

It’s all terribly, tweely English, a bit like those Children’s Film Foundation productions some of us used to watch on telly in the school holidays in the early Eighties. It’s vaguely now (there are iPads and executives who go paint-balling) but it’s also… when? Oh, you know… then: a land of red phone boxes, antiquarian book dealers and good manners. Adam’s father Arthur (Daniel Mays) smokes a pipe; an American witch bent on thwarting the Antichrist herself, pitches up from her palatial residence in Malibu, and is quite, quite taken with her dinky British cottage, in spite of its crummy Magnet kitchen. 

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Of course, people who like fantasy – though this is comedy fantasy, an altogether more gruesome genre – won’t remotely be bothered by this stuff. If you go in for warlocks, dowsing rods and Beelzebub (Anna Maxwell Martin with a face like a Hawaiian pizza), then you’re hardly going to worry if a witch must do without a power shower. But I am bothered. I don’t care for spells and special powers (the dramatic equivalent of a get-out-of-jail-free card) and thus it bothers me greatly when a demon is seen to make a call on an olive green Trimphone.