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Good Omens (TV series)

For many years I've heard the novels of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett recommended, often very highly and sometimes from people whom I know personally and who generally have pretty good literary judgment. I thought I might check them out sooner or later, but they weren't a high priority and I still haven't read anything by either of them. This 2019 TV series, based on a book which they co-authored, seemed like a chance to see what the praise was all about. Pratchett died in 2015, and the series seems to have been entirely under the control of Gaiman, as both writer and producer. 

The premise is that an angel and a demon who have been on the Earth beat since the Creation (the date of which, we are told, Bishop Usher was actually right about) have become more or less friends and rather comfortable with their 21st century simulated-human existence. The End Times have come, the anti-Christ is to be born. and the final war between heaven and hell is to commence. The pair have important roles to play in all this, but there's a problem: they don't want the world to end. They are pretty content with the way things are. So they set about trying to sabotage the apocalypse, and the whole thing becomes farce in the classic sense: "situations that are highly exaggerated, extravagant, ridiculous, absurd, and improbable." (Wikipedia) Right off the bat, for instance, they lose track of the anti-Christ, and waste a lot of time trying to steer the development of the wrong child. 

The series did not make reading either of its authors seem more urgent to me, and since Gaiman was apparently in control the blame can't be laid on insensitive TV producers. It's clever, but not that clever; funny, but not that funny. It leans too heavily on hackneyed conceptions of angels, demons, heaven, hell, and God. The last of these, for instance, is heard only as a voiceover (by Frances McDormand) and is the sort of limited wisecracking hardly-God-at-all construct which has been around at least since George Burns did the number in Oh, God back in the '70s. The angel (played by Michael Sheen) is an effete and timid fussbudget, apparently homosexual. The demon (David Tennant) is rich, witty, and glamorous, though most of the other demons are a really nasty lot. The angels are different but not really much nicer, slick inhabitants of a sort of empty white and glass space suggestive of a corporate office, behaving accordingly. Gabriel is played by Jon Hamm, who apparently had a key role in Mad Men, which I have not seen, but I suppose the association added flavor to the role for those who have seen it. 

The whole "isn't religion silly" vein of humor is pretty well played out at this point--"religion" here meaning mainly Christianity, or rather a pop-secular parody of it. People have been doing it for quite some time now, and there's no longer much adventure to be had in satirizing something that was already a parody. With "religion" now generally and openly despised by our most dominant and influential cultural forces, this kind of thing begins to seem like a big exercise in missing the point.

All that said, I did enjoy it, and would sort of half-recommend it. It's very elaborately and effectively produced, and there are a good many funny moments. The cast in general seems to be having a lot of fun, especially David Tennant. And I had fun identifying some of the actors playing characters very far removed from their usual roles. My wife heard a lot of "I know that face/voice, I just can't place it" from me. Anna Maxwell Martin is Beelzebub. Nina Sosanya, whose face and voice if not name will be familiar to people like me who watch a lot of British crime dramas, plays a nun (actually a satanic nun, Sister Mary Loquacious of the Chattering Order of St. Beryl). Miranda Richardson is Madame Tracy, a middle-aged (at least) woman who combines the occupations of prostitute and medium-for-hire. Mirielle Enos, the troubled detective (aren't they all?) of the American version of The Killing is War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The one that took me the longest time to get was an actor whose face I recognized but couldn't place until four episodes or so in: he is Michael McKean, who plays Chuck, the older brother of Jimmy McGill in Better Call Saul. He plays one of the last Witchfinders, and gets special credit for being a rare American actor who does a believable British accent. 

Here's the trailer:

Having watched the trailer again, I'll add that there is a definite philosophical or theological kinship here with Wim Winders's Wings of Desire. Worlds apart aesthetically, though. 

Comments

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I found this pretty unwatchable, but then you would have to be in the absolute correct mood for something so wacky, and I was not. Maybe some other time. You are right though, people have also been telling me for years to read both of those authors -- after 15 minutes of this I had no interest in pursuing them at all!

I bought Good Omens years ago - I saw that they had dedicated it to Chesterton. But I only read a few pages before I gave up. My son read and enjoyed it. He went on to read a bunch more Pratchett. (I never read any). I have no desire to watch the show.

I’ve read a few of Gaiman’s books. I really liked some his his YA/children’s books - The Graveyard Book and Coraline were both quite good. I remember enjoying The Ocean at the End of the Lane - but I hardly remember anything about it (except that it had to do with memory).

I wouldn’t say Gaiman is great but he’s definitely got a few books worth reading. But there are so many books worth reading...

I read a few pages of The Sandman, a graphic novel. It's more in the horror genre and the initial situation was so nightmarish that I didn't want to read anymore. Like a lot of his work, it has some very enthusiastic fans. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a nice title.

I've never been keen on comic s/f or fantasy. Even Douglas Adams, funny as he could be, didn't really grab me except in small doses.

I like the Hitchhiker's Guide series a lot, but it's memorable mainly as a series of skits and one-liners. Does anybody really remember much of the plot? I don't, apart from the beginning and end.

That reminds me: there is a goofy British series called Truth Seekers which occupies some weird territory between The X-Files and Detectorists. Unfortunately it was cancelled after one season. It was made by/for Amazon and apparently didn't get that much of an audience. I can sort of see why, because I found the first episode confusing, both as to what was happening and in a sort of neither-fish-nor-fowl way. It's a weird mix of funny, scary, and poignant. But I was interested enough to watch more, and by the third episode (of six) really liked it, and am very sorry there won't be more.

I loved the Hitchhikers Guide books when I was a teen-ager. Returning to them as an adult I was not as impressed. No, I do not remember the plot ha ha.

I should come clean that I have read two Neil Gaiman books - American Gods, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane. The first left me a little cold, I enjoyed a lot of it and then not so much the ending. The second I don't really remember, except that it was quite short. The reason I try to only read very long novels is otherwise I haven't spent enough time with them to remember anything. That's sort of a joke but also sort of true.

Oh, I took your earlier comment to mean that you hadn’t read them at all.

I was simply agreeing with your assessment that watching the TV series would not make you want to read either author.

I'm not patient enough to find your post on Get Back but I watched the first episode last night. What would be mildly interesting in a few hours has been stretched beyond endurance LOL. With that said I do want to watch at least the beginning of episode 2 since they will resolve the George Harrison defection. Also, Wikipedia states that in episode 3 is the 40+ minute concert. So would like to see that too.

The entire Yoko/John thing is almost unbearable .... kudos to the other three for even putting up with it. Who knows, maybe that was George's gripe and not the music! We all want our friends to be happy but to not necessarily have to put up with their relationships in such close proximity.

Although I said I would, I haven't been back to it, and am not sure I will. Just really not that interested, I guess. I may skip to the concert, which I'm pretty sure would be enjoyable.

I will say though that as far as I watched it, which I think was less than two hours all told, Yoko didn't seem to be the problem that I've always heard she was. Mostly she just sat there quietly. Building up the screams that would come out later, maybe. :-)

Lots of interesting stuff in a 2009 piece in Rolling Stone about the problems driving the Beatles apart, and Yoko comes across as a very big one: https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/why-the-beatles-broke-up-113403/

That’s definitely the accepted story, and has been from the beginning. I read somewhere recently though that McCartney thought it was overemphasized as a factor. At least some truth in it, though, I’m sure.

Well, that's a very sad story. I mean, it's always been sad, but those details make it even sadder. I guess I have a mild prejudice against Lennon, and as I read I was thinking "It wasn't so much Yoko as Lennon himself." Then I got to this, a few paragraphs from the end:

"It was a remarkable confession. John Lennon – who until Abbey Road and Let It Be had written most of the Beatles’ masterpieces and defined their greatest depths – could no longer bear to divide up his brilliance with Paul McCartney. The Beatles could withstand whatever tensions Yoko Ono brought them. They might have endured Allen Klein. But the Beatles could not survive John Lennon. His anxiety was simply too vast."

One of the saddest things is how weak all their subsequent solo work was compared to that of the band. In that respect McCartney is the saddest: he'd definitely be near the top of anybody's list of biggest musical talents in pop music, but his post-Beatles career doesn't seem to have realized his potential. But then I don't think I heard anything past Band On the Run, which is a good album but not a great one, to my taste.

There is a McCartney concert on YouTube that was filmed at Grand Central Station in NYC for the new album at the time, Egypt Station. I think the entire show is pretty awesome, Mac. The solo stuff as well as the Beatles stuff, and of of course there is also his advanced age at the time, 76 I think, to factor into it. There is a "commercial" after every song unless you pay more to have YouTube with no ads.

I like much of his solo work, and am more familiar with post-Wings than during that time. I like much of John Lennon's too - but for him there are only the songs, since the albums are divided up between good music, and the din of Yoko singing.

I guess what took me aback about what I have watched in Get Back is not so much that she is doing anything in particular, but just her proximity to the creative input of the four musicians, pretty much right there with them. When Linda McCartney shows up she does not put herself there in the circle with the others. It is just quite weird. That said, it is certainly Lennon and not Yoko to "blame" if you want to use that word since he allowed it all to occur.

This discussion caused me to listen to Ram for the first time since a few years after it came out. It kind of exemplifies McCartney's limits: so many brilliant musical bits, but it just doesn't add up to much, partly because the lyrics are mostly lightweight or worse, and repetitive. I should check out some of his later stuff, though. There's *so* much talent there, there must be some good music.

If you haven't read that article Marianne linked to, you should. It describes Yoko at times not just being there but sticking her opinions in, which probably really irritated the others.

Just listened to Abbey Road. I mean, talking about inane lyrics. A bunch of nonsense (George excepted).

Abbey Road, or at least the second LP side, seemed so much better than Let It Be at the time that it was some time later, listening to it again after many years, that I realized it was much overrated. A bunch of fragments that they patched together brilliantly, but yes, the lyrics--50% junk? More? I haven't heard it for a while.

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