The Good Omens TV show is a delightful adaptation of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s beloved novel—retaining all of its charms while effectively parceling out the book into six neat chunks of TV. But it goes beyond that by adding some wonderful elements to the original, including a grand sequence mainly born out of giving its stars more to do.
The story behind the benevolent, if bickering, oddball friendship between the demonic Crowley (David Tennant) and angelic Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) is mostly left to implication in the original novel, but the Good Omens TV series gives us a joyous recap of it in its third episode, “Hard Times.” Not so much of “cold open” as it is a “cold half of the episode,” we’re treated to a nearly 30 minute sequence of scenes across history of Aziraphale getting chided by God for “losing” his flaming sword—which he’d actually given to Adam and Eve once they were cast out of Eden—before bumping back into Crowley.
It all sparked a series of meetings and a blossoming friendship that tracks everywhere from Noah’s ark, to a workshop recital of Hamlet at the Globe theatre, to the French Revolution and beyond.
It’s goofy, it’s charming, and it’s basically an excuse to watch Sheen and Tennant bounce off of each other in the best way (and with a series of elaborate wigs). And, speaking to TV Line about the sequence, Gaiman revealed that the reason it exists was basically because the part of Good Omens he’d set aside to adapt for the third episode just didn’t have much for Crowley and Aziraphale to do in the first place:
When I got to Episode 3, I went, ‘Oh, Crowley and Aziraphale aren’t in this 50-page chunk,’ so I thought, ‘Well, I’ll do a mini-movie of Crowley and Aziraphale through time, and it will give Michael and David something to do.’
Despite the fact that the sequence was very costly thanks to all the single-scene sets and costume work involved—much grander versions of the scenes in the Globe and the Revolution were cut down to save money—it’s very good that it got in. If only because not only did some of the cost-saving mechanics actually make parts of it funnier (turning the Hamlet performance into an early flop, to Crowley’s disdain, rather than a packed-out showing), but it ended up being Sheen and Tennant’s favourite thing to film:
Sheen: Or, for instance, the scene with Shakespeare at The Globe. That was, again, originally hundreds of people watching the performance of Hamlet. And they’re like, ‘We can’t do it.’ So Neil then went away and thought, ‘OK… so either it’s a rehearsal, or it’s a flop… It opens up a whole new dimension to the scene. So working within restrictions is actually quite useful sometimes. But I think it was the most enjoyable thing for us to film.
Tennant: Yeah, because those scenes were sort of sprinkled through the schedule, so they were like little treats. Every few days there’d be, “Oh, we’re going to ancient Rome today!”
Good Omens retains the very best parts of the book, but it is made so much more satisfying for readers thanks to bits like this. Thank god Gaiman had a clever solution to giving his stars more to do!