While some genuine spiritual elements aren’t completely missing here, the positives are nun-too-obvious.
The Bible is full of signs and portents regarding the end of the world (as we know it): Four Horsemen, seven seals, the falling star called Wormwood, etc.
But to my knowledge, it never mentions a handbasket.
Perhaps it’s only fitting that the Antichrist would be delivered via handbasket, what with the infernal cliché and all. But given the cargo, you’d think some precautions would’ve been in order to, y’know, make sure the diabolical baby made it to the right set of parents.
That’s exactly what didn’t happen 11 years ago, when the demon Crowley (the same dude who tempted Eve into plucking a certain fruit off a certain tree) dropped the child off at an abbey filled with satanic nuns. Tasked with slipping the baby to an unsuspecting U.S. ambassador on his wife, the infant Antichrist was instead shuffled off to a middle-class pair of Brits without anyone knowing it.
That’s a problem for all concerned, really. For Satan and his legions of darkness, that means the kid (Adam’s his name) has missed out on 11 years of devilish tutoring, which Crowley had been mistakenly pouring into a run-of-the-mill mortal boy. Naturally, it’s bad news for Crowley himself, too. But for the demon, it extends beyond just disobeying his diabolical boss.
See, Crowley has been working secretly with an angel named Aziraphale to normalize the mistaken, not-so-demonic child (named Warlock) and thus, they think, prevent Armageddon. So while Crowley was filling the kid’s mind with thoughts of death and destruction (satisfying his immediate supervisors), Aziraphale pushed Warlock to love all living creatures (impressing heavenly bureaucrats). The end result, they hope, is a very normal kid who may talk back to his parents but has only a limited desire to annihilate every living being.
Now, with the real Antichrist about to come into his power, Aziraphale and Crowley must find that boy and stop him in order to save the world they’ve both become rather attached to.
But that, of course, comes with its own set of issues.
Amazon’s Good Omens pulls its story from a 1990 novel of the same name by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (though some elements apparently derive from an unwritten sequel). Pratchett, who died in 2015, was famous for his comic fantasies, so of course it’s funny. Neil Gaiman is the man behind such imaginative novels as Coraline and American Gods, so of course it’s creative. And, given its subject matter, of course it’s blasphemous, too.
At its core, the show’s spiritual problems stem from a simple, serious, theological error: The concept that there’s good, there’s evil, and then there’s the muddled middle where most of us live.
Angels here are strict-and-stuffy fun-haters. Demons are wicked, but (at least in Crowley’s case) kind of a kick to be around. And both sides are playing a rather evenly matched game—with human pawns in play. As such, both Crowley and Aziraphale hope to keep the Antichrist from picking a side. “If we do it right, he won’t be evil,” Crowley says. “Or good. He’ll just be normal.”
But in Christian thinking (and remember, Good Omens is at least superficially filled with Christian images, ideas and themes), we’re always on a side. We can either submit to Christ’s authority and follow Him … or not.
For all of its wit, Good Omens feeds into a very wishful, very contemporary and, I think, very humanistic understanding of who we are and why we’re here. The miniseries could certainly foster a bevy of fascinating theological discussions. But it’s a most unreliable narration, and thus potentially corruptive at its core.
It has superficial problems as well, though perhaps fewer than you might expect. Sporadic nudity flashes onscreen. Characters utter occasional profanities (though sometimes bad words come in streams rather than trickles). And remember, the show is predicated on a climactic war between heaven and hell, which some characters don’t survive to see. While the violence here is treated in a rather lighthearted manner, that doesn’t stop the occasional witch from being burned at the stake (and, incidentally, exploding to kill all of the onlookers as well).
Good Omens is thought by many to be a good show. But spiritually, this Amazon Prime miniseries seems like it needs to be carted away in its own handbasket.
Crowley is charged with delivering the infant Antichrist to the Chattering Order of St. Beryl, where evil nuns (their sanctuary festooned with an upside-down cross) will give the baby to an unsuspecting ambassador and his wife. But when another expectant couple arrives as well, the babies get switched and the Antichrist (now named Adam) spends 11 years with the wrong family. Meanwhile, Crowley and Aziraphale seek out the real Antichrist and plot how to keep the world from ending.
In flashback, we see Crowley (in the guise of a serpent) tempt Eve into biting a forbidden apple in the Garden of Eden several days after creation (which, we’re told, occurred at exactly 9:13 a.m. on Oct. 21, 4004 B.C.) We see a fully nude Eve from behind and, later, both she and Adam are clothed in a smattering of leaves (still exposing quite a bit of their bodies). After the humans are kicked out of Eden, Aziraphale gives them his flaming sword to help protect them. While Aziraphale frets about whether he did the right thing, Crowley (now in humanish form) wonders what’s so bad about knowing the difference between good and evil. “A demon can get into a lot of trouble for doing the right thing,” he says. “Be funny if we both got it wrong, eh?”
It’s really just the beginning of a whole host of spiritually dubious plot points and themes—so many of them, in fact, that we can’t even dig into them all here. Here’s just one example: Crowley points out that hell has all the best composers (name-checking “all of the Bachs,” despite that classical musician’s reported piety), and he says that heaven’s not “big on wine” (never mind that Paul suggests a little wine can be good for one’s digestion). Heaven gets only The Sound of Music, which God allegedly loves and the angels quote frequently. One more example: Oscar-winner Frances McDormand is listed as “God” in the credits (though early on, she seems to act as more of a Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy-style narrator), and she describes existence as “like playing poker in a pitch-dark room for infinite stakes with a dealer who won’t tell you the rules and who smiles all the time.”
Crowley and Aziraphale get wildly drunk. Once they decide to sober up, Crowley strains and somehow psychically expels the wine back into its bottles. Later, one of them drinks a glass of brandy.
Crowley disguises himself as a Mary Poppins-like nanny (complete with dress and falsetto voice) to teach the boy whom he thinks is the Antichrist a lot of nefarious lessons. (Aziraphale disguises himself as a gardener to feed the boy countering lessons.) Crowley suggests to Aziraphale that if their plans to normalize the boy go awry, Aziraphale should just kill him. (Aziraphale is very uncomfortable with that notion and is noncommittal.) A demon kills a nun and burns/explodes an abbey to the ground. A “hellhound” devours either a minor demon or wandering soul in hell before bounding off to Earth to watch over the Antichrist.
Demons brag about tempting a priest into lust (with a “girl”) as well as tempting a politician into accepting a bribe. There’s a suggestion that a “spare baby” was dispatched, though the voice of God suggests that maybe the nuns found a good home for the baby and that he “probably wins prizes for his tropical fish.” Children throw food at a magician who’s attempting to entertain them.
We see a sculpture of a nude Hercules wrestling with snakes though it’s meant to have a more Scriptural, metaphorical connotation in context. We hear a reference to the Earth’s horoscope. (It’s a Libra, apparently.) Crowley lets loose a string of nearly 10 consecutive s-words. We also hear “b–tard,” “d–n,” “h—”, “p-ss” and the British vulgarity “bugger.” God’s name is used with the word “d–n” twice. A boy scrawls a crass word on a plaque.
Arizaphale and Crowley’s plan to prevent Armageddon has hit a snag or two. Arizaphale’s bookstore has burned down, for one thing, and his body has de-incorporated—necessitating a quick semi-possession of another body (after a quick, dispiriting visit to Heaven). Meanwhile, the Four Horsemen, the witch Anathema Device, her new boyfriend (Newton Pulsifer) and the boy Adam—aka the Antichrist—head to England’s Tadfield Airbase, where the end of the world is scheduled.
Adam glories in his newfound evil power at first, hovering above his childhood pals (with glowing red eyes), freezing them in place and wiping away their mouths so they can’t contradict him. But after he lets them loose and they tell Adam that he’s being a real jerk, he seems to reconsider—opting to try to fix things rather than destroy the world.
Meanwhile, Arizaphale’s possessed body belongs to the medium Madame Tracy, who’s holding a séance when she’s taken over. Arizaphale allows one of Tracy’s clients to talk with her dead husband (who tells her to just “shut up”) as lightning flashes outside. He/she then teams up with Shadwell, the last member of the Witchfinder Army, who brags about his index finger (which he says has the ability to exorcise demons). Shadwell detects Arizaphale in Tracy’s body and calls him a “Southern pansy.” (He makes several dated, crude remarks about women elsewhere as well.) A demon pours through a call center speakerphone as an avalanche of maggots, skeletonizing all the call-center employees. (That demon is later immolated himself in the burning M-25 freeway.)
We learn that the M-25 around London actually was designed by Crowley as a diabolical prayer that translates into “Hail the Great Beast devourer of worlds.” The low-grade anger expressed on the freeway is said to be like “water on a prayer wheel.” That freeway later bursts into flames (apparently killing everyone stuck in traffic there). Anathema and Newton get dressed after their sexual dalliance in the previous episode. (We don’t see anything critical here, though Newton does mention that it was his “first time.”) The Four Horsemen (one has been switched from “conquest” to “pollution”) take over Tadfield and prepare to launch automatic missiles and weapons all over the world.
Crowley gets drunk via a couple of bottles of liquor. Characters say “b–tard,” “d–n,” “h—” and the British profanities of “b-gger” and “bloody.” God’s name is misused once.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.
While some genuine spiritual elements aren’t completely missing here, the positives are nun-too-obvious.
The show addresses issues faced by many a middle schooler–but not in ways that their parents might approve of.
Rod Serling proved you could make a provocative show without a whiff of content. This Twilight Zone has no such confidence.
Sure, these high schoolers sometimes have to take down the bad guys. But they’re more about lifting up each other.