It’s a bleak time in the world of Peak TV. There’s more quality programming to watch than ever before, true. (And probably more than most of us will ever be able to get to, if we’re honest.) Yet there are times when it feels like television, as a genre, is primarily interested in telling us the grimmest sorts of stories about the worst possible people and outcomes.
In just the past month, HBO’s Chernobyl gave us a horrifying look at the human cost of the Russian nuclear disaster, Netflix’s Black Mirror reminded us that technology is most likely making us all monsters, and a new season of The Handmaid’s Tale arrived with all the uncomfortable real-world parallels that accompany a story about female oppression and resistance in 2019.
On the small screen, antiheroes are everywhere. Even series that are ostensibly about good guys regularly flavor their protagonists with some fairly heavy shades of gray, and threats involving the end of the world are actually surprisingly commonplace storylines given that they should be once-in-a-lifetime events.
Which is why it’s a bit unexpected that a story about literal Armageddon—complete with God, Satan, angels, demons and an actual Antichrist—is possibly the brightest, most hopeful thing on the small screen at the moment. And it’s arrived precisely when we all need it most.
Amazon’s Good Omens, the long-awaited television adaptation of a thirty-year-old novel by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, is ostensibly about the eternal battle between the forces of Good and Evil. But the show actually turns out to be a story about something much bigger and, in its way, more mystical than the end of the world.
Good Omens is about the (almost) apocalypse, yes. But it also explains why the world is worth saving. It deftly illustrates that all of Earth’s inhabitants—human, demon, angel—are more alike than we are different, and fully commits to the idea that love is, in any and every form, a radical act. It does so primarily through the lens of an unlikely and deeply codependent friendship between an angel and a demon, playing out like a gay romantic comedy, is just the icing on the cake. (But more on that in a minute.)
While Good Omens is a story about the literal End Times, it’s also one that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Its basic premise—“The end of the world, but make it funny”—guarantees that everything from the Four Horsemen to the Antichrist’s Hellhound are firmly on the sillier side of scary. But the show is a sparkling collection of oddball characters and bizarre moments. It uses humor to tell what is objectively one of the darkest of stories and, by doing so, infuses everything with a needed, necessary light. When complicated bureaucracies of Heaven and Hell are played for laughs and Agnes Nutter’s magical prophecies are so ridiculous, it’s hard to believe any of them are true.
But what makes Good Omens so special is its central duo: The unlikely and unorthodox friendship between bookish angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and swaggering demon Crowley (David Tennant). This relationship, by all rights, should not even exist. And yet, it serves as the heart of the larger story that Good Omens is trying to tell.
In a more traditional show, Crowley and Aziraphale would probably be a very different set of antagonists: Constantly at one another’s throats, sabotaging each other’s supernatural plans or otherwise overtly battling one another other. They would be mortal enemies, whose conflict drove the show forward to a violent, predictable end. There would probably be dramatic special effects. Maybe fire.
But Good Omens is not that show.
Here, Crowley and Aziraphale are some ineffable combination of best friends and eternal life partners, the only two creatures in the universe who can relate to one another because no one else Above or Below has experienced the things they have. During their many millennia on Earth, they’ve learned not only to love humanity and the wonders it’s capable of creating, they’ve also discovered how much they care for each other and how necessary they are to one another’s lives. (No matter how different they might be on paper.)
Good Omens is a love story on many levels; between an angel and a demon, between two celestial beings and the human world they inhabit, between a group of teen best friends and even between God and Her creations. This is a story about the universality of family (both natural and found), as well as the idea that it’s kindness and care that ultimately will save the world, not flaming swords and holy water. (Though neither of those things are bad to have around, in the end.)
But unlike so many other dark tales on television these days, Good Omens is adamant about the fact that our futures are not fixed. Instead, the story of the end of the world is used as a framework to remind us we are who we choose to be. An angel can befriend a demon. A Hellhound can decide he kind of likes being a pet. A witchfinder can reject his destiny. We can and do contain multitudes.
Thus, when Armageddon itself finally arrives, it feels almost anticlimactic. Satan (Benedict Cumberbatch) bursting bodily from an airplane tarmac is bizarre, of course, but the event’s truly pivotal moment occurs when Antichrist Adam (Sam Taylor Buck) chooses the quiet, frumpy father who’s loved him all along over an absentee demonic dad who promises world domination. His friends, the Them, refuse to abandon him to the manipulation of the Four Horsemen, even when he’s being a complete jerk. And, of course, Aziraphale and Crowley choose one another over all the powers of both Heaven and Hell.
In a similar way, Good Omens doesn’t really ask us to choose a side in this Final Battle, either. Instead, it simply encourages us to choose each other, too.
In a time when real life appears to be as bad as anything the minions of Hell might be able to conjure up, this admonition feels more necessary than ever. Good Omens isn’t just a story about the end of the world, it’s also about what comes after it. (Or perhaps instead of it, if you want to get technical about how Adam’s timeline reset works at the end there.)
In any story—perhaps most particularly in one being told right now, in a world full of such turmoil—optimism is a categorically brave act. Much like love, hope is always the more difficult choice, particularly in a storytelling landscape that tends to reward depressing tales with “gritty” endings. But as the last shot of Good Omens makes clear, things don’t have to be that way.
Here, at the end of it all, the Angel of the Eastern Gate and the Serpent of Eden sit together in a fancy restaurant affectionately toasting each other, as well as the world they’ve helped shape and save. “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” plays in the background, a fitting coda and a musical ode to impossible things. The most suitable of conclusions, perhaps, for this little show that shines as a light in the darkness, and did not allow the darkness to overcome it.
Good Omens is available to stream on Amazon Prime.
Lacy Baugher is a digital producer by day, but a television enthusiast pretty much all the time. Her writing has been featured in Collider, IGN, Screenrant, the Baltimore Sun and others. Literally always looking for someone to yell about Doctor Who and/or CW superhero properties with, you can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.