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27 July 2023

Terry Pratchett would love the queer politics of Good Omens 2

David Tennant’s devil and Michael Sheen’s angel are one of television’s great odd couple romances.

By Marc Burrows

Good Omens 2, the second season of Prime Video’s cult hit, will finally arrive on Friday (28 July), almost five years after the first season debuted and over three decades since the publication of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s beloved novel on which it was based. Like the first season, Good Omens 2 is warm, inviting, weird, whip-smart, wonderfully diverse, very funny… and it’s really going to annoy the “anti-woke” brigade.

As with Gaiman’s other recent TV hit, The Sandman, this is a show with diversity and representation built into its DNA. Characters have same-sex crushes and no one bats an eyelid. There’s a completely open approach to casting in which the race, gender and physical characteristics of individuals basically don’t factor into the story in any way. There are characters with visible disabilities, black characters, white characters, old and young, women, men and non-binary – and none of these identities has any bearing on the story. Rarely is representation on this scale so elegantly done. For a story about the end of the world, it’s strangely utopian.

At the centre of the tale are Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and Crowley (David Tennant), an angel and demon, friends, companions and technically mortal enemies for millennia. Sheen is fussy, well-meaning, pleasant and fastidious, while Tennant is wily, louche and sardonic.

And they love each other. It’s never stated aloud, though it bubbles close to the surface once or twice if you know where to look. The pair’s odd-couple, will-they-won’t-they chemistry, which is less obvious in the book, was the heart of the first season, and season two gives us even more. They’re a classic pairing: attracted opposites thrown together by fate. There’s a wonderful moment in season one where Crowley states that, rather than being agents of heaven or hell, they are simply on their own side, and another where Aziraphale tenderly uses his angelic wing, almost absent-mindedly, to shield his partner from the rain.

What the pair’s relationship hasn’t been, at least not yet, is overtly romantic, though Gaiman, the show-runner, has said many times that he regards Good Omens as a “love story between an angel and a demon”. It’ll be interesting to see how this unfolds as the season progresses. If it blossoms into a full romance, it’ll be another example of the representation baked into the show. Crowley and Aziraphale may be genderless angelic beings, but Tennant and Sheen are cis-gendered men, and any romantic scenes will unavoidably be viewed through a queer lens.

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In a way, that would be deeply fitting. Good Omens is not an innately political book, but it is, like most of the late Sir Terry Pratchett’s work, intensely moral – something that Gaiman (alongside the show’s executive producer, Rob Wilkins, who is also executor of Pratchett’s literary state and his “representative on Earth”) has preserved in the new story: a two-season arc based on ideas he and Pratchett had for a follow-up they never had time to write. That morality, that anger at injustice, was an essential part of Pratchett’s writing. (“Do not underestimate this anger,” Pratchett once told his friend. “This anger was the engine that powered Good Omens”.) There’s a lot of that anger in Good Omens 2, mainly aimed at the contradictions and cruelties ordered by God in the Old Testament. The avidly atheistic Pratchett would certainly approve.

But even without the religious critique, Good Omens is innately political. It tells a story in which all characters, regardless of gender, race, age, physical shape or ability can be completely, authentically and – crucially – visibly themselves. It’s a very Terry Pratchett idea. A very Neil Gaiman idea. And an ineffably Good Omens idea.

Marc Burrows is the author of an award-winning biography of Sir Terry Pratchett. He will be performing a one-man stand-up show, The Magic of Terry Pratchett, based on the author’s life, at the Edinburgh Fringe, running 2-28 August.

[See also: The Power of Parker captures the particular quirks of Nineties northern England]

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