Herald Top 10: Carl Curtis: Good Omens is a travesty of eschatology

We end 2019 by republishing our most-read Magazine and Comment pieces of the year. This is Number 4: Carl Curtis's review of Amazon Prime's Good Omens

Good Omens on Amazon Prime is a five and one-half hour exercise in schoolboy humour, that is, a brand of humour practised by witty adolescents – not an easy thing to pull off either.

Based on the novel by Neil Gaiman and the late Terry Pratchett, Good Omens does indeed howl away nicely for much of its length. But when the series trots out the usual atheistic nostrums (ignore heaven and hell; it’s our world to fix), it violates the cardinal rule governing schoolboy humour: never get serious.

Here’s the plot. Two angels, heavenly Aziraphale (Michael Sheen, pictured left) and hellish Crowley (David Tennant, right), learn that Armageddon is nigh – 11 days away. The problem? Well, as Crowley says, everything Aziraphale and he have come to enjoy on earth – music, old books and wine – will come to a crashing end, or at least for Aziraphale; all the good authors, composers (“all of the Bachs”, Soli Deo gloria notwithstanding), and wine casks are in hell. And the rumour is that God likes The Sound of Music. (See what I mean about schoolboy humour?) Somehow, they must bring an end to … the End. Actually, Crowley has no intention of doing anything of the kind because he figures the devils can win, but Aziraphale, being a first-class nincompoop, swallows the story pitchfork, line and sinker.

But the road to Armageddon is full of potholes. Crowley (no “night-tripping fairy” he) botched the baby switch that was supposed to bring the Antichrist into the world. Only he doesn’t know it, so he and the satanic host assume everything is going according to plan. So, indeed, do the heavenly angels, blockheads every one. Setting things right – or wrong – remains the burden of the plot; even the descendants of witches and Puritan witch-hunters get in on the act.

It will surprise no one to hear that Good Omens pushes various PC buttons. God is a “She”; Christ was victim of Roman injustice for preaching “kindness” (per Frank Capra’s Lost Horizon?); and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are War, Famine, Death, and … Pollution. Evidently, we needn’t worry any more about Pestilence. Of course, heaven and hell both want Armageddon, but if we poor humans will ignore them, we’ll muddle through very well.

David Tennant is marvellous as Crowley; the scenes of him disguised as Mary Poppins and later of his talking to his plants are priceless. Michael Sheen’s Aziraphale seems too dense and simpering, but one gets used to him; he is, after all, a gay angel. As for Gaiman’s travesty of eschatology, best to take it as just another excrescence of trendy atheism: stupid and ultimately risible.

Dr Carl C Curtis III is a professor of English at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia