Published August 18, 2023
“Good Omens 2” is worse than blasphemous, it’s boring. This new Amazon Prime show is a sequel to the amusing 2019 adaptation of Neil Gaiman and the late-Terry Pratchett’s 1990 novel parodying bad Christian eschatological fiction. In the original story, the angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and the demon Crowley (David Tennant) team up to stop Armageddon after Crowley accidentally misplaces the baby Antichrist.
If you’re wondering how to get a sequel from that, well, the writers of this season had the same problem. They settled for replaying hits from the first season, only with no one knowing what was going on. An amnesiac Gabriel (Jon Hamm) shows up at Aziraphale’s London bookshop with both angels and demons hunting for him. Hijinks, or at least a facsimile of them, once again ensue as Aziraphale and Crowley try to hide Gabriel and figure out what the hell (or heaven) is going on. Along the way, there are a few flashbacks (e.g., the book of Job is turned into a farce), some bad CGI, a lot of LGBT stuff (of course), and an eventual big reveal that is pure cringe.
The actors are generally fine, but the pacing is off, the jokes are flat, and the earnest bits just make the viewer feel embarrassed for everyone involved. I suspect Gaiman wrote nothing for this except when it came time to sign the back of each check. In short, “Good Omens” has gone bad. The earnestness was the worst part. A comedy can earn the right to be earnest — the end of “Blackadder Goes Forth” is an excellent example of this — but “Good Omens 2” doesn’t come close to that level of rapport with the audience. It doesn’t have enough emotional heft (which can be established through good comedy) to provoke sympathy.
And earnestness is an especially poor fit because the world of “Good Omens” is essentially Lovecraftian with a lighter touch. God is inscrutable and absent, with the angels consequently degenerating into bureaucracy while trying to implement a divine plan they don’t understand. Mankind is clueless as powers beyond our comprehension blunder about plotting to destroy each other and us.
As this illustrates, the original book and show were to actual Christianity what the Thor movies are to Norse mythology. But the story had just enough connection (and good enough writers) to be funny and maybe even prompt a few worthwhile reflections. Its merit was rooted in the Christianity it treated as fodder for jokes — and in fairness, Christian end-times fiction is a target-rich environment.
While any sequel would inevitably struggle to top stopping Armageddon, the overall premise still has a great deal of potential for both humor and pathos. Humans caught between angels and demons in a cosmos from which God has seemingly withdrawn could certainly make for some good stories and some good (probably dark) comedy. Unfortunately, the writers had no idea how to use this setup, and no message better than suggesting that heaven and hell should make love, not war. It’s just banal.
The decline from the original story to the sequel is representative of the malaise of post-Christian culture and art. The creative force unleashed by the cultural and technological changes of the last century has been exhausted in just a few decades. As postmodernity’s connection (even as an antagonist) to the prior Christian culture withers, so does its creative force. This show is just one more example of there not being enough cultural juice left to produce great art or even much good entertainment.
Good art has to be true to the human condition, and contemporary culture has no idea what the human condition is. And because we do not understand ourselves and our situation, we are also incapable of understanding those who are different from us. This is why shows with vastly different settings and characters all end up being more or less the same. The writers have nothing but the same insipid, stale tropes to repeatedly rehash, whether they are writing for angels, demons, elves, dwarves, 19th-century Londoners, or modern New Yorkers. And so everyone thinks and sounds interchangeable, regardless of the costumes and the CGI layered on top.
There is no easy fix for this. Artists — a category that might generously include the writers of Amazon TV shows — cannot will themselves into belief just so they can be better at their craft. And they are not totally devoid of dogmas, but so-called diversity, equity, and inclusion are not really enough to live on, let alone create anything worthwhile.
And these little orthodoxies are a terrible fit for the cosmos of “Good Omens,” with angels blundering and demons scheming while God is out to lunch — a world that makes one long to be alone in an uncaring universe. Terror and tragedy fit this, as do absurdist gallows humor, as in the original story. The doctrines of Caitlyn in HR do not. Even if we accept “Good Omens 2” as fundamentally mocking religion (which is likely), the show is not funny or engaging enough for the critique to land, and the proposed alternative is just woke cringe. Viewers might forgive “Good Omens 2” for dispensing with the divine but not for forgoing comedy.
Nathanael Blake is a senior contributor to The Federalist and a postdoctoral fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.