A Good Omen

Let’s get the uncomfortable truth out of the way first: Good Omens is not my favorite Pratchett novel, nor my favorite Gaiman*. Much as I like both authors, I’ve never felt their styles quite meshed in Good Omens.

* Both tend to vary from time to time, but “Guards, Guards” and “The Graveyard Book” are usually at or near the top of their respective lists.

Even so, I’d been looking forward to seeing the TV adaptation. It took a while to get through it–the series was released at the end of May, while I was in Sedalia–largely because our TV viewing habits were formed back in the prehistoric days before the VCR and DVR became ubiquitous. Yes, we really do watch shows one–or at most two–episodes at a time.

Though it was probably scripted and produced with binge viewing in mind (it was certainly released that way, with all six episodes coming out together), our more relaxed approach didn’t degrade the experience.

Let it be noted that I deliberately didn’t re-read the novel before watching the show. I wanted to minimize any “That’s not how it was in the book” reactions and allow the show to stand or fall on its own merits.

We watched the last episodes this past weekend, and I finished re-reading the book yesterday, so I think I’m finally ready to comment.

I should mention at this point that Maggie and I are engaged in an on-going re-watch of the post-Interregnum Dr. Who. Entirely by coincidence, we’re currently working through the David Tennant years. I’m not sure which was more disconcerting: seeing the Doctor as a demon, or seeing Crowley as the Doctor. We’re both of the opinion that both shows benefited from the synchronicity.

In brief, the show succeeds. Given how little has changed, that’s quite impressive. Allowing six episodes gave the story room to breathe; had it been limited to a two or three hour movie or special, it probably wouldn’t have worked nearly as well (By contrast, the three hour Hogfather succeeds brilliantly, but would have felt thin at six hours.) A number of scenes were reordered, improving the flow of the story. Several were expanded, enhanced, or altered, generally to give more background on specific characters. And a few things were cut, mostly tangential diversions. In particular, I wasn’t at all sorry to lose the Four Horsemen’s fan club.

I heartily applaud the show’s expansion of Crowley’s relationship with his car. In the book, the car’s death and resurrection are all but shrugged off. By giving the Doctor–pardon me–Crowley a more visible emotional reaction, the show incorporates a specific example of what’s at stake in the impending final confrontation.

And then the tweaks to that climax–especially the “They told his father” sequence–were a tremendous improvement. I’d always thought Adam came off as too passive at the climax, an impression my re-read did nothing to alter. The show made his active participation in the events explicit, and as a result, he feels much stronger.

The bottom line is that in this reviewer’s Not So Humble Opinion, Good Omens is that rare case where the book was not better. I don’t think I’ll be re-watching the show regularly–certainly not annually, as I do with Hogfather–but I’m more likely to come back to it than to the novel.

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