This six-part mini-series based on the book by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman is superb. The 1990 book of the same name is very good but this TV adaptation is even better. It definitely benefits from being made into a miniseries that lasted a total of nearly six hours, rather that a shorter feature film. It enabled the screenwriter Gaiman and the director to provide a much richer texture to an already complex story. The series is available on HBO which I do not subscribe to but I happened to be staying at my daughter’s place and they do subscribe so I took the chance to watch it. I can strongly recommend it. In fact, I plan on seeing it again because the dialogue and acting are so good that it is the kind of thing that benefits from a second viewing, where one picks up on gags that one missed the first time around.
The story is based on the impending Armageddon that will climax in a major battle between the forces of Good and Evil that will be triggered by the Antichrist, who is boy named Adam, soon after his 11th birthday. The TV series expands the roles of Aziraphale (an angel) and Crowley (a demon). Aziraphale was the angel guarding the gate of the Garden of Eden who took pity on the banished Adam and Eve and even gave them his flaming sword to protect them from the wild creatures they would encounter in the hostile world outside. Crowley initially appears in the form of the serpent who tempted Eve. The angel and demon are supposed to be on opposite sides in the war but over thousands of years of crossing paths at various major events in human history have developed a sort of friendship that is grudging at first but becomes stronger when they realize that they both do not see the point of destroying the Earth and all its inhabitants and decide to try and thwart the grand plan. This puts them in the bad books of their two organizations, who try to pull them back into line.
The central plot device is that the baby Antichrist was supposed to be switched for an actual baby born to the wife of an American diplomat at a rural English hospital run by an order of loquacious nuns who are secretly working for Satan. But the nuns are also somewhat incompetent and the switch is bungled. As a result, the forces of Good and Evil follow the wrong child as it grows up, realizing only eleven years later when Armageddon falls due that something has gone agley and that no one know who or where the real Antichrist is.
There is a lot more to the story, involving witches, witch finders, an absolutely accurate book of prophecy, and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Death, War, Famine, and Pollution, two of whom are women actually. I won’t get into any of those details except to say that the Apocalypse is an extremely confusing story that has many interpretations and that the version presented here is as good a version as any. There are also many allusions to contemporary events and political commentary, especially to the extreme dangers posed by environmental pollution and climate change.
The show’s witty script was excellent and the acting superb. The two lead actors Michael Sheen (as Aziraphale) and David Tennant (as Crowley) had excellent chemistry. Sheen plays an angel who dresses in the style of a nineteenth century fop, enjoys fine dining, and is kind-hearted but tentative and unsure of what is the right thing to do at any given time. Tennant is the smooth talking, suave demon who sports dark glasses, black leather jackets, and drives around in a vintage Bentley, who tries to persuade Aziraphale to join him in thwarting the DivinePlan. Tennant manages to convey evil (he even manages to walk like a snake, if you can imagine it) while at the same time generating sympathy for his character who trying to prevent the end of the world and co-opting Aziraphale to join him. The scenes involving the two of them are particularly hilarious. There is also an extremely talented supporting case of A-list actors from British film, theater, and TV, plus Americans Jon Hamm (as the archangel Gabriel) and Frances McDormand (as the voice of God).
Apparently 20,000 people signed a petition sponsored by a religious group asking Netflix to have the series canceled, criticizing the show’s irreverent treatment of religious topics and the use of a female voice for God. I am surprised that they did not also object to the fact that Adam and Eve are black, though that does make more sense evolutionarily speaking, not that these critics are likely to believe in evolution. The group did not seem to know that the show was shown on HBO and not Netflix and that it was a one-off mini series, so there was no second season to cancel. These religious groups do not seem to do the most minimal homework before issuing their petitions.
Here’s the trailer.