[Review] - Good Omens

Courtesy of the BBC
Yeah, it's late. I suck like that some times.

If Dirk Maggs wants to just keep on adapting Neil Gaiman's works, he is welcome to do so. He clearly has the right mentality when it comes to putting these projects together. And like Douglas Adams before him, Gaiman's work is both wordy enough and dependent on impractical visuals enough to work extremely well on radio. And the BBC, pretty much the only place left in the world which recognizes radio plays as an acceptable art form, is the perfect place for Gaiman's brand of wit and wisdom. Having Terry Pratchett's influence along for the ride this time didn't hurt either.

Good Omens is the story of a boy and his dog, an angel, a demon, a couple witches and a troublesome book. And under Maggs' direction, this adaptation, like the Apocalypse, went off with only a few small hitches. Before you go much further, and if you haven't already (it's been weeks, guys... come on), pop on over to the Radio 4 website and give the six episode series a listen while you can. After that, come on back here for my thoughts on the end of the world.

Hit the jump for the brief review, which contains spoilers that always count the nipples.

As I mentioned in my review of Maggs' previous adaptation of Neverwhere, it is hard to find fault with his adaption. He doesn't stray far from the source material, so unless you want to fault him for being faithful, the words matter less. Omens suffered less than Neverwhere in one adaptive respect, in that there were less clunky chunks of description or exposition transformed into long swatches of stilted dialogue. Perhaps it is because Gaiman's lone style is inclined towards linguistic painting, or perhaps it was a side effect of being co-written by a duo, but most of the book are conversations between pairs of characters - Aziraphale and Crowley, Adam and his gang, Anathema and Newton - which lend itself better to a radio play.

Also, there is less of a need to describe the setting to the audience as there was last time. London Below is an unknown and bizarre place, but Lower Tadfield is pretty much what you'd expect: hedge rows and little shops. The audience can fill in their own blanks, and the actors can focus more on pushing the story forward rather than getting hung up on making certain everyone is imagining the right kind of hedge.

Radio plays live or die by the acting, considering that's literally all there is. And because it is purely auditory, it becomes quite clear early on who is well suited for the job, and who is getting hung up on the concept. Not that there is a bad actor in the assembled bunch Maggs cast to fill these roles. But on stage on screen, and actor can act small, and allow their body to silently express what they don't want their words to say. On radio, there is no room for subtly. There is no unspoken connection. There is only voice, and it is perhaps the one medium where acting big is not only appreciated, it's essential.

As such, Peter Serafinowicz played Crowley a little too close to the vest. I get that he's an stoic demon, and that the sheer weight of his voice is enough to command the role, but I found it a little too unresponsive a performance. Similarly, I found it took Mark Heap a number of episodes before he really fell into a groove as Aziraphale. Perhaps it was something in Magg's direction of the mystical beings, because I also felt underwhelmed by the quartet of Rachael Stirling, Harry Lloyd, Paterson Joseph and Jim Norton as the four horsemen. They more than anyone felt lifeless and flat.

The human characters, on the other hand, were full of life, and the greatest pleasures in the performances came from the actors fulfilling the fleshy rolls. Adam Thomas Wright as the spawn of Satan seemed very well at ease as the child, lost in his own ideas of what the world should be like. He found a fine balance between the wild, child appropriate leaps of imagination, and the flow ramping up as he discovers all that is truly retched about the world.

Colin Morgan and Charlotte Richie as Newton and Anathema respectively had great chemistry, with Richie putting just enough accustomed indifference into her performance to really sell the part. The prize of the show though goes to Clive Russell as the Witchfinder Shadwell, whose Scottish bluster and crazy old man routine were a highlight to the programme. The show never seemed more alive then when he was going on about nipples and debauchery. But again, it was because Russell was acting big - well into the rafters at times. He understood that nothing stood between him and the audience but his voice, which he had to throw at us like weighted darts at a rigged carnival game.

In all, it was a by-the-book and successful adaptation. Certainly worth listening to on a cold winter evening, or on a long car ride. And frankly, I'd rather hear Gaiman's works adapted to radio, where they can remain true to themselves and not get edited down due to the cost of having to visually represent all his flights of fancy with CG renderings. This way, the work stays in it's native form: pure words, and just like with the novels that inspire them, we are left to do the real heavy lifting.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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