Why ‘Good Omens’ Is More Than Just Another ‘American Gods’ Style Neil Gaiman Adaptation

Matthew Loffhagen
BBC
(Photo: BBC)

If you’ve been paying attention to the internet today, you might have heard some exciting buzz about an upcoming adaptation of Good Omens by Neil Gaiman, which will feature Michael Sheen and David Tennant.

This is pretty good news all around – this is fantastic casting for an adaptation of a novel that’s become a cult classic since its first publication.

There’s one thing, though, that Neil Gaiman has been quick to correct with regards to the majority of the coverage surrounding this show.

Neil Gaiman didn’t write Good Omens. He co-wrote it with Terry Pratchett.

This may seem like splitting hairs, but it’s important enough that Gaiman has been publicly calling out news outlets that fail to report the story correctly. What’s more, it’s somewhat indicative of what people are expecting this show to be, and what they’re not seeing about the future of Good Omens.

The timing of this announcement is by no means a coincidence. Starz’s adaptation of Gaiman’s novel, American Gods, is one of the biggest TV shows of the year, and has drawn a lot of interest from television networks looking to recapture that magic with another Gaiman adaptation.

Amazon Prime will be giving us Good Omens, and they’ve lined up some stellar casting with two of the coolest British actors currently working in Hollywood. Martin Sheen’s smiley, happy face is perfect for the beleaguered angel Aziraphale, who is at odds with (but who ultimately befriends) the demon Crowley.

Tennant, meanwhile, is a sublime choice for Crowley. Jessica Jones has proven that he makes quite the villain, and it’s exciting to imagine him playing this world-weary devil that, over the course of the story, gets more than a bit fed up with his job.

So for a story that centers around an angel and a devil, it seems the parallels to American Gods run deep, even if this particular story is set in England rather than America. No doubt Amazon is hoping that Good Omens will essentially be British Gods, combining the nuanced reimagining of ancient mythical and theological figures with Gaiman’s sly jabs at modern life.

Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett Good Omens
Source: BBC

But Good Omens is also a Terry Pratchett work, and as such, it comes with a lot of his own personal sensitivities. Death is a character, albeit not in quite the same form that appears in the Discworld novels, and the entire story revolves around a doomsday plot, witches, and an antichrist who just wants to be a normal ten year old boy.

This is classic Pratchett, to the point that the book contains a line that was widely shared online following the famous author’s death in 2015, held up by many as the quintessential Pratchett expression on the subject of mortality:.

“DON’T THINK OF IT AS DYING, said Death. JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH.”

Perhaps the reason why so many people are willing to overlook Pratchett’s contributions to Good Omens is because his work has never been very successfully adapted to other media. Sure, there are television shows, movies, animations, and even video games set in Discworld, but none of these managed to capture the spirit of the original text.

Pratchett has, very decidedly, remained an author whose work sparkles on the written page. Nobody has quite cracked the formula to making it work on-screen.

This isn’t to say that such an adaptation is impossible, and if Good Omens proves a hit (there’s no reason to assume it won’t) we might be getting a lot more of Pratchett’s stories on television. This almost seems like the perfect gateway to a well-deserved Pratchett revolution within screen media, with just enough Neil Gaiman in the mix to make the story feel more palatable to studio executives who are wary of anything set in Discworld proper.

It’s not fair to overlook Terry Pratchett’s work on Good Omens in favor of focusing on the name that’s currently a bigger pull for television adaptations. Neil Gaiman isn’t happy with Pratchett being left out of the coverage, and we as audiences shouldn’t stand for it either.

Feel free to get a leg up on this one by reading the book first. Just imagine David Tennant reading the whole thing and you’ll have a truly fantastic time.

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