As Crowley, a fallen angel who became a demon before life on earth began, David Tennant is supposed to look reptilian, with slit-eye contacts barely hidden under blackout sunglasses. Yet, he resembles nothing so much as a sort of live-action Jack Skellington, a stop-motion wireframe with the slimmest of black suits covering stick limbs always in herky-jerky motion. As his best friend (and possibly more) Aziraphale, a more benevolent angel-turned bookseller, Michael Sheen is fusty, musty, and a touch camp, like a mildly effeminate college professor who manages to enliven lectures on extremely dry topics with the tactful application of silly puns and an oversized bow tie. In the first season of Good Omens, based on the novel by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, this ambiguously maybe-gay duo thwarted the apocalypse. How do you top that for a second go-around?
Smaller for the Sequel
Quite simply, one does not. Based on notes for a follow-up book that never happened because Pratchett died, and showing obvious symptoms of pandemic quarantine, Good Omens 2 keeps the bulk of the action confined to a single city block — the one on which Aziraphale’s book shop, where he is known as Mr. Fell, is located. It’s a smaller sequel, a term that must sound like real sacrilege to the money men, hinging on a mystery that remains unsolved by the fifth, penultimate episode. (Prime Video withheld the finale from preview screeners so we reviewers couldn’t spoil it.)
Basically, the archangel Gabriel (Jon Hamm) shows up at the door of the bookshop naked and with amnesia, though he has an inkling that something terrible may be afoot. Aziraphale may not be inclined to like him after last season, but he promises to protect him much to Crowley’s irritation.
The forces of Hell quickly become aware that Gabriel is missing and vulnerable, but thanks to a joint miracle performed by Aziraphale and Crowley to hide his identity, Hell’s agents can’t actually see him even when he’s right in front of their faces. Heaven, however, has noticed that a miracle took place, and sent the extremely naïve angel Muriel (Gloria Obianyo) to investigate. To throw her off, Aziraphale tries to pretend that the miracle he performed was actually a love spell to connect cranky coffeshop owner Nina (Nina Sosanya) with record store owner Maggie (Maggie Service) who already pines for her. But for that to be a convincing excuse, those two will have to actually start liking each other in that way.
So, while Crowley tries to make sparks happen there, Aziraphale tries to get to the bottom of Gabriel’s bare-bottomed appearance. Meanwhile, we get Lost-style flashbacks to various incidents in Aziraphale and Crowley’s shared past across the entire history of mankind. (Rather than flashbacks, these sequences are dubbed “minisodes,” even though they’re fully part and parcel of the regular episodes). These tend to involve heavy amounts of bluescreen, and just-good-enough CG backdrops that aim for stylization rather than total believability. This extends into the modern sequences, too — as Aziraphale drives into Scotland for the first time in centuries, its mountains resemble Terry Gilliam-esque drawings of scrunched-up bagpipes and kilts, foregrounded with an animated Nessie in the Loch.
It Takes Two
Trailers have teased the idea of Gabriel catching more than just the curiosity of the leads and creating a love triangle, but that’s not the case. He’s mostly an impediment, albeit one that does get the two leads together. The true nature of their relationship remains one of plausible deniability, though at least this time around other characters assume they’re a couple, making those of us viewers who thought likewise not feel alone. And Good Omens 2 isn’t in the full 22 Jump Street mode where every joke is about the presumption of couplehood; it mines more humor in the ways best friends and loved ones do or don’t trust one another and aggravate just by being their own worst selves sometimes.
Thanks to Gabriel’s amnesia, more humor is mined from “Who’s on First”-ish routines where characters try to push past his amnesiac ignorance to no avail. In flashback, there’s plenty of Monty Python/Life of Brian-style riffing as Crowley asks some obvious logical questions about biblical literalism, like the notion that the universe is primarily being created for the benefit of one planet and set to be destroyed in a mere 6,000 years. “It’s the universe, not some fancy wallpaper!” he exclaims, as he prepares to lodge a complaint, not realizing, as we do, that his angelhood will shortly be revoked as a result.
Tennant’s father-in-law and fellow Time Lord Peter Davison shows up in one extended “minisode” as Job, which is some nifty casting. Tennant also wears a fez in one scene, likely as a Matt Smith in-joke. The season’s full of them. A Terry Pratchett book even makes an appearance. And like Doctor Who, this appears to be a versatile enough premise that it can work with epic adventures and smaller-scale, more boxed-in tales.
Good Omens 2, like its predecessor, takes Scripture mostly as literal history, with one addendum — in most cases, deeds attributed to both God and Satan were actually carried out by massive bureaucracies working on their behalf. Heaven is all massive, empty white boardrooms full of naifs with too much power, while Hell is like an overcrowded library basement-cum-DMV bathed in green light and overseen by Beelzebub (Shelley Conn), a nonbinary teen in a school uniform who sports teeth so grotesquely rotted they make Austin Powers’ smile look like Tony Robbins’. The implicit undertone that a literalist reading of the Bible is inherently absurd may turn off some viewers, but the faithful who can laugh at themselves will find plenty of theological in-jokes to enjoy. Life, after all, is also absurd in many ways, so why wouldn’t every aspect of it be?
Considering we weren’t shown the ending, there’s always a chance Season 2 could blow its landing. It almost doesn’t matter, though, since Good Omens’ characters and their banter are the hook here more than the conflict is. Whether they’re trying a magic trick onstage, robbing graves to help the homeless, or merely enjoying tea, we watch because we like them. What they do is almost — though not entirely — beside the point.
Grade: 4/5 (tentatively)
All six episodes of Good Omens 2 debut on Prime Video on July 28.