Bulletpoints: Good Omens

(Being a slightly extended version of the accurate but not very nice complaints sent to her friends by A. Subramanian, definitely not a witch, who will stop now because this format is twee.)

I watched Good Omens, the Amazon Prime adaptation of a book I enjoyed very much about fifteen years ago. I had some thoughts and subjected my friends to them via various messaging and social media things. I used to do media reviews in the form of a series of bulletpoints on this blog, and I like them as a format, so here goes:


  • Having God directly narrate Good Omens is a weird idea (And I don’t care if it is Frances McDormand). Both book and film make much of the ineffability of God’s plan, and sure, people can be present and ineffable at the same time, but it works so much better when the text (and we) have at least as much distance from God’s voice and thoughts as the characters themselves. Plus, this is one of the aspects of the adaptation that suffers from being overly attached to what the book thinks are its best lines–the “God does not play dice with the universe” stuff is overwrought, but it’s still funny coming from an observer who’s just trying to make sense of it all. From God herself, it’s just smug.
  • The …narrowness of the book’s view of the world is unfortunate (everyone is white; the world is bounded by Britishness) but the focus on small-town 80s England, and the Just William-style nostalgia mitigates it; the genre context makes the omissions seem deliberate or at least less unnatural. Set in the present, and with an international (still mostly white, Brit/NorthAm) cast it’s glaring.
  • Okay, all is forgiven, Dog has arrived, what a good boy.
  • Oh cool, it’s the “No Man’s Land, North Africa” scene. One nice (“nice”) thing about having a few key rants that your friends have heard several times is that when something like this shows up in a movie you can count on several of those friends informing you of it immediately. I went in absolutely expecting this scene, but that didn’t make it less unpleasant. Unnamed black and brown people are having a war over something petty, as we do; the peace process is derailed by squabbling and superficial concerns over looking strong, and it all takes place in an unnamed bit of Africa, a continent that expands or contracts as the imperial imagination allows it to. Both racist and dull.
  • When I heard that the series had been given a more recent setting than the book, one of my thoughts was “oh no, the ice-cream joke”. One of the throwaway jokes in the book is that America (a mythical and wondrous place!) has dozens of flavours of ice-cream; a thing unimaginable to Adam and his friends, who immediately set about trying to calculate just how many combinations of strawberry/chocolate/vanilla there can even be. I’m not sure why this is one of the parts of the book I remember so vividly. Above, I mention the adaptation’s unwillingness to lose lines from the book it thinks particularly funny–that’s the only explanation I can see for trying to retain this gag, which feels rather baffling in context.
  • Apparently many fans had strong feelings about Aziraphale’s use of white gloves to handle a rare book (The Nice and Accurate Prophecies…); one of those things that is guaranteed to get a reaction out of an archivist. Neil Gaiman then tweeted that he’d had “a tiny crisis of conscience” over the decision not to revise the scene as it was in the book; naturally fans were charmed by this instance of writers caring about things that they, the fans also care about. No one had a crisis of conscience over No Man’s Land, North Africa.
  • I suppose it’s necessary for the scenes from the Biblical past to take place in a vaguely-defined Middle East, but given the treatment of places outside the UK in the show’s present, it’s a bit uncomfortable to suddenly find ourselves in antediluvian Mesopotamia, as Aziraphale cheerfully explains that it’s fine, only these locals who are going to die; god wouldn’t kill everyone, obviously.
  • This feels like a subset of one of my earlier complaints but history in this series is either Biblical (fair enough) or British–even the World War II section, a rare example of history that also happened abroad (obviously the truly important bit was the Blitz) that most British people are aware of. There is a brief detour into the Reign of Terror; fortunately the show had already mentioned it in a conversation between Crowley and Aziraphale, so the audience need not be too alarmed that events are taking place a whole channel away.
  • More “Middle-Eastern Unrest”; such a weaselly phrase.
  • I guess it’s progress that pollution has them/their pronouns, but it doesn’t feel like it.
  • You can tell that neither Famine nor Anathema is from the third world because both of them are able to hilariously joke around with the immigration official, and because said official is bored and inattentive.
  • I was curious as to which countries, in the show’s imagination, had nuclear weapons. The answer is: the US, Russia, India, Ireland, Australia. The Indian scientist pronounces “nuclear” as “nukular”, a thing I’d always associated with some US accents.
  • How many break up scenes will these characters have? The discourse around this relationship has done little but convince me of how uninterested I am in the questions of whether or not what’s between the characters is platonic, and whether/to what extent sex (whatever that means for divine beings) is involved. Immortal creatures have a literal eternity to figure out what they feel for one another; apparently I’m unable to care unless there’s some mortal sense of urgency.
  • Having said which, I’ve been wanting a fanvid set to “chori chori jab nazrein mili“, a song I believed I had forgotten, but which is close enough to the Good Omens theme tune (I assume they’re both based on the same piece of music somewhere) that I have been unhappily earwormed by it for several days.

One Comment to “Bulletpoints: Good Omens

  1. I thought the handling of the time period was odd. The first episode indicates that the show is set in the present (mainly through mentioning cell phones), but then the series largely gives up, and does things like the ice cream bit, or the fact that none of Adam or his friends has a computer or a phone themselves. It feels like the book’s 1990 setting (which was a rather old-fashioned 1990 already) very inexpertly superimposed on the present with only a few sops towards squaring the difference (Crowley’s answering machine is “antique”, etc).

    I think this comes from the same place as the voiceovers of wanting to be very true to the book, which I’m choosing to read as a tribute to Pratchett since that stuff – most of the voiceover jokes, which originally come from the footnotes, for example – was clearly his contribution. But in the aggregate it is more annoying than charming.

    (Also, this is not at the level of the Africa bit, which is pretty egregious in the book as well, but I rolled my eyes a little when the show arrived in Meggido and it was nothing but an empty desert plain. Not pictured: the national park, visitor’s center, major traffic intersection, and – for reasons you’ll have to ask the British Mandate about – prison.)

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