With its six-episode run having just arrived on Amazon's Prime Video service, the big budget version of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett apocalyptic satire Good Omens is proving a fresh start for Gaiman and Amazon's ongoing TV relationship. Like the 1990 novel it's based on, Good Omens tells the story of the end times via the relationship between demon Crowley (David Tennant) and angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen). But under a script by Gaiman himself, the TV show has expanded the scope and updated the vibe of the story for our modern apocalyptic world.
Ahead of the series' debut, CBR spoke with Gaiman, Tennant and Sheen, as well as co-stars Jon Hamm (Gabriel) and Miranda Richardson (Madame Tracy) and director Douglas Mackinnon, about the show. And from the jump, the creative crew stressed that their version is truly a single global epic that mocks the idea of Armageddon in a time when the world feels like it's on fire.
"When Terry Pratchett and I wrote it, the world was actually in a really good place," Gaiman said. "The Berlin Wall had just come down. Glasnost had happened. There was peace. And when we were trying to write about the world on the edge of Armageddon, we had to sneak in paragraphs about how unlikely it was at a time when it seemed like everybody was getting on so well. Right now, we don't have to worry about that. Right now, it's much more timely in many ways to be writing about the end times, Armageddon and the Apocalypse, than it was when we wrote the book together."
Mackinnon agreed that part of the trick of the show was to not approach it like a comedy series. "We decided to take it very seriously and not make it funny, and then comedy arrives," he explained. "The world's in such a terrible state that if we tried to do a comic kind of thing, it just would never have worked. The thing I thought almost every day was that it felt like we were in the present and not in the past. If you look at the zeitgeist, if anything, it's in the future. But if we can get through some of the bad things, I hope we can find our way to peace and not war."
Sheen and Tennant traveled the world to film their parts at the lead of a massive ensemble, and the former noted that making the series was as surreal as the story itself. "One day we'd be at the Globe Theater recreating the first night of Hamlet in 17th-century London, and then we'd be in the middle of a desert in Africa. There's a particular episode that has us coming through the whole of time and seeing the history of our relationship through time. That was the extreme version of jumping around in different costumes and looks. But the whole thing was really amazing. There's so many speaking parts and so many locations, we were barely in one place for two scenes. It was constantly jumping around.
"But the piece itself has that to it. It's a crazy journey," Sheen added. "It's a pinball machine, throwing you around the universe. But right at the heart of it for us was this relationship between these two extraordinary characters. You asked what makes this a show for today, and you can't get more ideologically opposed than Heaven and Hell and angels and demons. And yet, this show is about these two beings who start to break through their ideological differences and start to become more human as a result. They foster this very special relationship, which I think is a good message."
Tennant agreed that the relationship between the pair takes on added significance in a time when society is so divided. "Their two respective offices – Heaven and Hell – are either extreme end of existence. They're both awful places, and the sweet spot is somewhere in between, which they try to find together. This story is an extraordinary sprawling tapestry. So, no two days shooting this were the same.
"What's happened, gloriously, is that Neil has adapted this himself, and so it has retained the bananas scale and scope of the original novel," the actor noted. "And maybe this is one of the reasons why this has never been adapted before, but it took Neil to adapt he and Terry's own story. I felt like anybody else would have tried to rationalize it. They'd try to make it make sense for a small screen. And actually, it needs the extraordinary free thinking that Neil has brought to the script and that he and Terry brought to the original story."
Hamm's involvement came for the simple reason that he wanted to "be involved in a story that I had loved for a very long time." The actor noted that he read Good Omens in the past before becoming connected to Gaiman personally. "I had the good fortune to meet Neil in a sort of social capacity a few years back, and after we'd all gotten over our nerves of being in a big party together, we made our way to one another and I said 'I've been a fan of yours for a very long time, and it's a real pleasure to get to meet you.' There was a little bit of back and forth, and that's how we met. Cut to three or four years later, and I get an e-mail out of nowhere saying, 'This character in Good Omens isn't really in the book, but we're making a thing at Amazon that's only going to be six episodes. Basically a six-hour movie. Would you ever consider doing it? It's not one of the leads, but it's a fun, good part.' And I just said, 'Yes. I don't need to read it. I want a part of that.'
"That's basically how I chose the projects I get to do. Is it something I care about? Then I'll just figure out how to do it on the day it happens. It's nice to be asked to play with the cool kids," he said.
For his part, Gaiman relished the chance to adapt and expand a book he wrote with the late Pratchett, finding new ways to explore the characters from long ago. "The moment I remember thinking 'Now this has to happen' was writing episode 3 with the new stuff – the new history of Crowley and Aziraphale through the ages. There was a scene where Aziraphale was involved with some Nazi spies and Crowley comes to rescue him and has to walk through a church hopping like somebody on a very hot beach in bare feet while walking down the aisle because he's on consecrated ground. It was writing that scene where I said, 'This has to get made. Now that I've written this scene, I'm never going to let this not happen.'"
And now that it has, Gaiman will continue writing for TV and for Prime in particular. "I've done a deal with Amazon. It will be my home for making television with them for the foreseeable future, which makes me very happy."
Good Omens is streaming now.