For some reason, Christian Americans are incredibly upset with the TV series “Good Omens,” based on the Neil Gaiman/Terry Prachett novel of the same name. The fury reached a point where thousands of Christians petitioned Netflix to halt production and broadcasting of the show, despite it being an Amazon Prime production. They recently realized the error, and are now restarting the petition, this time directed to Amazon Prime.
“Good Omens” tells the story of an angel Aziraphale, played by Michael Sheen (“Masters of Sex,” “Frost/Nixon”), and a demon Crowley, played by David Tennant (“Dr. Who,” “Broadchurch”) who work together to stop the apocalypse, as they have grown fond of their lives on earth and friendship with each other. It also follows a subplot of a young witch trying to fulfill her ancestor’s prophecy to stop the apocalypse, and her partnership with the descendant of a witchfinder.
As a devout and practicing Catholic, I found the show absolutely hilarious. The writers clearly did their research, as the mythos surrounding angels and demons is, for the most part, fairly accurate, with impressive attention to detail.
There is definitely some satire directed at Christianity, particularly the specifics of Catholicism, amidst the show’s six-episode run. This is to be expected when a witty, bantering angel and demon serve as the shows principal characters. The satire is the subject of the outrage from the Christian community.
The satire of Good Omens, however, never reaches God himself, or as the angels would say “the higher office,” but remains strictly on the winged shoulders of His angels, portrayed here as bureaucrats with distinct personalities and flaws.
This is particularly seen in the Archangel Gabriel, played with hilarious pomposity and arrogance by Jon Hamm (“Mad Men,” “Baby Driver”). While the angels and demons scheme, bicker, and try to enact their various plans, God, voiced by Frances McDormand (“Fargo,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri”), remains apart from their childish antics, maintaining the ineffable plan.
The petition, which passed around a Christian petition site Return to Order, details a series of objections against the show:
- The show “portrays God as a tyrant and Devils as being good.” This is far from the truth. Both the high-level angels and demons are portrayed as tyrannical bureaucrats, the type that are frequently seen in work-place comedies, but God is above all of the childish machinations of the angels. Further, the show makes it clear in nearly every time Aziraphale and Crowley are on screen together that angels and Heaven are good and the demons and Hell are bad. However, the angels and demons are more human than spiritual.
- The show is “a mockery of God’s order and religion, and makes Good and Evil seem equal and interchangeable.” The angels and demons are portrayed as remarkably human, particularly Aziraphale and Crowley, who have been living on earth for thousands of years and have “gone native.” Ultimately, Crowley and Aziraphale must reconcile the bit of good and bad in each of them in order to succeed. The distinction between good and evil is clear, however, so when Crowley does something good or Aziraphale bad, it is notable and easily distinguishable from their baseline behaviors.
- “An angel and demon are good friends, and meant to be earth’s ambassadors for Good and Evil, respectively.” I’ll admit, I don’t quite see the complaint here.
- “The pair try to stop the coming of the Antichrist because they are comfortable and like the earth so much.” Again, I don’t really see why this is an argument against the show. The show clearly portrays the pair’s attempts to prevent the apocalypse as going against the edicts of Heaven and Hell.
- “God is voiced by a woman.” Yes, Frances McDormand voices God. The show does not actually make any claims that God is a man or woman, merely casts a talented actress who voices the role excellently.
- “The Antichrist, who will oppose the Kingdom of God, is portrayed as a normal kid that has special powers and a mission to destroy the world which he doesn’t really want to do.” Due to a mix-up early in the series, the Antichrist, presented as a baby who will grow into his powers and bring about the end time upon his eleventh birthday, was raised as a normal child to loving parents, and therefore did not want to usher in the apocalypse. There is very little written about the Antichrist in the Book of Revelations, but the Antichrist as the son on Satan is a frequent presentation. By bringing in a nature versus nurture question, “Good Omens” continues its exhalation of the beauty of humanity, which is the point of the series.
- “There are groups of Satanic ‘nuns’ that are chosen to raise the Antichrist.” The aforementioned convent of Satanic “nuns” are portrayed as ridiculous, incompetent, and ultimately betrayed by the demons they served. No one could walk away from “Good Omens” and want to create her own Chattering Order.
- “The four riders of the Apocalypse, God’s means of punishing sinful earth, are portrayed as a group of bikers.” In order to make ancient stories relatable to modern audiences, contemporary imagery is often used. The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse as bikers was a creative way to juxtapose the rider imagery with contemporary ideas.
Other Shows Haven’t Received This Much Outrage
Overall, the show is incredibly funny and rather innocuous. Several television shows and films within the past few years have addressed Catholicism or Christianity without the swell of outrage or controversy. Some even gained support from the Catholic community. Others received similar outrage, but not nearly to the same degree.
The Marvel-Netflix collaboration “Daredevil” deals heavily with the idea of faith. The eponymous protagonist Matt Murdock is a devout and practicing Catholic. He also spends his nights brutally beating bad guys dressed as the devil. Catholics love this show, and for good reason. Along with being a clever and interesting show, the deeply Catholic protagonist provides fascinating and nuanced representation of being a believer, where his faith is a major aspect of his character, but not the whole of who he is.
Likewise, the NBC afterlife comedy “The Good Place” has been embraced by Christians, and particularly Catholics, for its original humor and perceived morality. However, similar to “Good Omens,” the show uses religion as grounds for satire, but honestly takes it farther, making light of Hell and its likeable denizens.
The Netflix series “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” deals heavily in satanic themes. Where “Good Omens” had a handful of scenes at the Satanic Convent, which was usually the subject of a joke, Sabrina has several main characters deep within an institutionalized Satanic Church, several of whom are portrayed as being cool, powerful, and sexy. Some Christians found the show offensive, and there even was a petition against it, which amassed 127 signatures. For reference, the “Good Omens” petition currently has 21,286 signatures, for the far-less-publicized second petition.
In 2003, the first major Catholic superhero graced our screens, the X-Man Nightcrawler in X2. The character returned in 2016 in “X-Men: Apocalypse,” and Catholic superhero fans embraced both versions of the character. Apocalypse particularly leaned into the Catholic imagery, contrasting the heroic Nightcrawler, who looks like a demon with blue skin and a tail, with the evil Archangel, who is ethereally beautiful with wings and looks like a literal angel, but is one of the four horsemen of the eponymous Apocalypse. The character’s devout faith was embraced and adored.
The HBO drama “The Young Pope” has received a complicated reaction from Catholics around the world. Focusing not on divine characters but rather the institution of the church, some (myself included) adored the series for its complex characters, while others were offended by the eponymous pope’s seeming lack of belief. The Vatican itself weighed in, giving the show a generally positive review while criticizing the frivolous manner in which it portrayed in inner power struggles of the church.
The only show that reached the same level of criticism has Satan as its protagonist. The Fox supernatural police procedural “Lucifer” received criticism from Christians for portraying Satan as likable and charming. Based on the Sandman comics by Neil Gaiman, who wrote “Good Omens,” the series follows a bored Lucifer, who decides to help solve crimes in contemporary America.
Before the series premiered, a petition by American Family Association (AFA) accumulated more than 30,000 signatures to cancel the show. However, upon its premiere, the controversy mostly died down, and people mostly forgot about it in the fog of other police procedurals.
But Is It Good?
Controversy notwithstanding, “Good Omens” is a great show. Tennant and Sheen delight with crackling chemistry and the script supplements their performances with a sharp wit that would delight anyone watching.
If you’re Christian and easily offended, I’d recommend looking elsewhere. However, anyone who can enjoy brilliant performances, clever satire, and an engaging story should check out this charming series.