As some of you may have noticed, many of the Overlords are just a teensy bit excited about Amazon Prime’s upcoming series, Good Omens. For a good stretch of 2017, literally, the only thing that kept me from the brink of madness and despair was ogling all the set pics showrunner Neil Gaiman was posting on his social media accounts. Which was why, when I was scanning the SXSW schedule ahead of my departure, the ONE event I knew I had to get into — more than Us, more than my usual slate of midnight horror flicks and heartfelt docs and that one movie where Jesse Eisenberg learns karate (review coming soon!) — was the so-called “Good Omens: A Nice And Accurate SXSW Event.”
Yup, it was an “event,” not a screening. And the bad news is that they didn’t show the premiere episode for those of us in attendance, so I can’t give you any impressions. But the good news is that the panel discussion included Gaiman, stars David Tennant, Michael Sheen, and Jon Hamm, and director Douglas Mackinnon, as well as never-before-seen clips from the show… and a choir of nuns from the “Chattering Order of St. Beryl” singing Queen covers. Oh, and Aisha Tyler was the moderator, which was like the perfect cherry on top of this sundae nerdgasm. Just give Aisha Tyler every job, ever. She’s the best!
But back to the matter at hand. Since I can’t offer you a review of the first episode, I’ve instead compiled a down-and-dirty list of the best quotes, biggest hints, and other assorted revelations I gleaned during the event, to whet your appetite before the 6-episode limited series launches on May 31st.
Let’s get the sad stuff out of the way up-front. Good Omens is based on the beloved novel co-written by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, and the pair had always wanted to see it adapted on screen… but whenever they reached out to screenwriters about it, they were turned down. Everyone believed it was too hard to make! Pratchett was the one who finally asked Neil to just make the adaptation himself, as something of a last request — he wanted to see it before he died.
But, as many of you already know, Pratchett DID die before Good Omens came to fruition — a fact that Gaiman claimed was the biggest challenge he faced when making the series. There was no Terry around to help Neil when he got stuck or to rejoice when Neil had an idea to work through a tough problem.
Y’all, the biggest takeaway from the panel was just how much Gaiman misses Pratchett. This whole show is a labor of love in his honor.
It is truly a limited series
When asked about the possibility of a season two, Gaiman was quick to point out that this series covered the whole book — so there will only be a season one. Though he did reveal that, when the pair had contemplated the possibility of writing a sequel to the novel, they already had a title in mind: “668: The Neighbor Of The Beast.”
But lack of source material isn’t the only roadblock to continuing the series. Gaiman, who wrote all six episodes himself and acted as showrunner for the first time in his career, revealed that… well, he’s done with it. “I am now a retired showrunner,” as he put it. He’s looking forward to going back to writing and not dealing with budgets and deadlines, from the sounds of things.
The Crew Loved It
Sure, we’ve seen a trailer and fallen in love, but apparently, there are no bigger fans of Good Omens than the cast and crew themselves. Many of them, including composer David Arnold, claimed it was their favorite job of anything they’ve ever done — and Arnold has composed the music for MULTIPLE James Bond films.
Loving the book certainly seems like it played a huge part, but it sounds like the crew enjoyed a level of creative freedom unlike anything they’d ever experienced as well. Thanks to Amazon, the show had a sufficient budget to bring its vision into reality — but time was still an issue. So everyone was trusted to just… do their jobs. There was very little second-guessing, and instead, the departments were encouraged to be bold and take big swings.
Just like how Gaiman wrote all six episodes, Douglas Mackinnon directed all of them himself — which is fairly unusual, as most shows have multiple directors. Mackinnon is known for his work on shows like Doctor Who and Sherlock, but it was another show — Jekyll — that sold Gaiman on his talents. Balancing the tone, from humor to drama to a touch of horror, is crucial to making Good Omens work, and Jekyll showed Gaiman that Mackinnon had the chops he was looking for. And then Mackinnon had to turn around and show Gaiman how to be a showrunner!
Of Angels And Demons
From the very start, Gaiman wanted Sheen in the project — though they originally thought he’d be playing Crowley the demon. But, eventually, they both came to believe that Sheen would be better suited to play the angel Aziraphale… which they awkwardly confessed to each other over a meal.
It wasn’t until Gaiman had written a few episodes of the show that the idea of casting Tennant as Crowley entered his mind. There’s one scene in particular, where Crowley enters a church and is mincing around in pain (hallowed ground and all), that gave him the idea. And from then on Gaiman claimed, “When I was writing for Crowley, I was writing for David Tennant. I thought that there’s no other human who could play Crowley.”
Everyone spoke a lot about how the pairing of Aziraphale and Crowley is like two halves of a whole. Sheen remarked that “It’s the only part I’ve ever played that when I think of the character, I don’t just think of the character. I can only think of Aziraphale with Crowley.” Of course, Sheen also revealed that his biggest challenge on set was performing opposite Tennant — because he’d get so wrapped up watching Tennant that he’d get distracted and forget his own lines. WHICH IS VERY RELATABLE.
But Gaiman revealed that the angel and the demon are more connected than you might realize. When he wrote the first 5,000 words of the novel, there was only a demon named Crowley. It wasn’t until he sent the draft to Pratchett that his co-author split the character into the two distinct buddies we know and love.
“The book shows that both heaven and hell are shitty places to work, just one has a better view.” — Jon Hamm
From the clips screened, it’s obvious the series is taking great pains to remain faithful to not only the spirit but the letter of the novel. But that’s not to say we can’t expect there to be new elements added to the mix — such as the angel Gabriel, played by Jon Hamm. He’s the asshole bureaucrat from head office who can tell you how disappointed he is with a smile on his face — and Hamm claims he got the part because “I needed a job.” Though also it probably has something to do with how good he looks in a suit. The impression I got is that there will be greater emphasis on the nature of Heaven and Hell, and the role they play in the coming Apocalypse, in the show.
Oh, and apparently Gabriel’s violet eyes were inspired by Elizabeth Taylor, natch.
Cameos and Easter Eggs
Apparently, the show is filled with nods to the works of Terry Pratchett, and there are even several Doctor Who easter eggs sprinkled throughout. And if you’re paying attention during episode 4, you just might spot Gaiman himself. “They needed a sleeping drunk,” is what he said.
Odds & Ends
— There was a particularly funny bit in the panel when Mackinnon and Tennant, who are both Scottish, ran through the many ways you can say “aye” to mean different things.
— I heard Frances McDormand’s narration as God in one clip, and she’s predictably delightful.
— Other clips they screened showed us a scene between Adam (Sam Taylor Buck) and Anathema Device (Adria Arjona), Gabriel dropping by Aziraphale’s book store to see how that whole antichrist thing is working out, and Crowley blasting through the flaming M25 motorway in his car. All of it looked great, and very much captures the vibe of the novel, as you’d expect. If anything, I’m almost worried it might be TOO faithful, and may be so concerned with honoring the book that it fails to coalesce into a satisfying show. But I’m not actually that worried. I’m mostly just excited.
— The one thing the panel didn’t touch on too much on was the Four Horsemen, which was a little disappointing. It seems like the powers-that-be very much want to keep Good Omens under wraps and protect its surprises, which is a little funny considering it’s literally based on a book.