'It's a buddy road movie through time'

Good Omens

Neil Gaiman screened about 20 minutes of new footage of his upcoming apocalyptic Amazon Prime series Good Omens to a packed house at the South by Southwest film festival Saturday night.

Good Omens is a six-episode limited series based on a novel by Gaiman and Terry Pratchett and follows uptight angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and his devil-may-care demon partner Crowley (David Tennant) as they set out to try to prevent the end of the world.

The footage showcased the series’ unique dryly witty tone (think The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and you’re somewhere close) and included scenes set in the Garden of Eden, another with Aziraphale and Crowley inspiring William Shakespeare (sort of), and a scene introducing Jon Hamm as Aziraphale’s oblivious blowhard boss, the Archangel Gabriel.

“It’s the only part I’ve ever played that when I think of the character I don’t just think of the character I think of Aziraphale with Crowley — intellectually, yes, they’re very different people, but when we were doing it felt like we were doing one thing,” Sheen told the SXSW audience.

“It’s a buddy movie through time,” Tennant added. “Aziraphale and Crowley complete each other and very much the yin to each other’s yang. They do exist as one, I think.”

Moderator Aisha Tyler also had a rather handy summation: “It’s a buddy comedy, it’s a road movie, and it’s also an office comedy — this idea that heaven and hell and the damnation of souls and eternal salvation are managed by bureaucrats in an office somewhere.”

The much-loved 1990 novel (titled Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch) was long considered unadaptable, a challenge Gaiman felt compelled to accept himself.

“It probably was impossible but we managed to do it somehow anyway,” Gaiman said. “Pratchett and I could both picture this thing. We went out and talked to a lot of writers of television we admired and said, ‘Would you like to do this?’ and they explained that they wouldn’t, because…they couldn’t quite get a grip on it and couldn’t see how you could do it without changing it too much. I was probably ready to just let it slide but Terry wrote to me and said, ‘You’re the only person who has the same amount of love for Good Omens as I do and you understand it and you have to make this so I can see it before I die. And then he died. Which left it as this awful last request. I had to do it.”

Hamm’s role was expanded considerably from the books playing the boss from hell — who just happens to be from heaven. For the role, he wears violet contact lenses that were inspired by Elizabeth Taylor’s eyes. “I’m everybody’s boss we’ve all worked for, and everybody hates, because he’s constantly smiling and telling you what a terrible job you’re doing,” Hamm said. The show also stars Nick Offerman, Jack Whitehall, Miranda Richardson, Adria Arjona, Michael McKean, Anna Maxwell Martin, and Mireille Enos.

Gaiman also confirmed the series will only be six episodes, with no intention of trying to go for another season if successful. “The lovely thing about Good Omens is it has a beginning, it has a middle, and it has an end,” he said to appreciative applause. “Season 1 of Good Omens is Good Omens. It’s brilliant. It finishes. You have six episodes and we’re done. We won’t try to build in all these things to try to let it continue indefinitely.”

Oh, and fans who went to the panel got this poster:

And had a performance by the Chattering Nuns channeling Queen:

Also, there was a bit of audience obsession about Hamm’s rather eye-catching shoes — the soles (souls?) in particular — and you can see why:

Good Omens premieres on Amazon Prime on May 31.

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