REVIEW: GOOD OMENS

Michael Sheen and David Tennant in Good Omens (2019)

Starring

David Tennant (Mary Queen of Scots)
Michael Sheen (Passengers)
Anna Maxwell Martin (Motherland)
Jon Hamm (Baby Driver)
Josie Lawrence (Humans)
Lourdes Faberes (Knightfall)
Adria Arjona (Life of The Party)
Michael McKean (This Is Spinal Tap)
Jack Whitehall (Bad Education)
Miranda Richardson (Sleepy Hollow)
Mireille Enos (Hanna TV)
Yusuf Gatewood (The Originals)
Brian Cox (Rise of TPOA)
Reece Shearsmith (Stag)
Nina Sosanya (Marcella)
Ned Dennehy (Peaky Blinders)
Ariyon Bakare (Rogue One)
Frances McDormand (Fargo)
Derek Jacobi (Gladiator)
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Grinch)
Steve Pemberton (Psychoville)
Mark Gatiss (Game of Thrones)
Nick Offerman (The Lego Movie 2)
Daniel Mays (The Bank Job)
Sian Brooke (Sherlock)
Simon Merrells (Legends of Tomorrow)
Susan Brown (Game of Thrones)
Paul Kaye (Anna and the Apocalypse)
David Morrissey (The Walking Dead)

Michael Sheen and David Tennant in Good Omens (2019)Once upon a time, Good Omens was considered unadaptable. Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s sprawling, 400-page fantasy novel was notorious within the film and TV industries. Screenwriters turned their noses up at the project, and various attempts over the years to bring page to screen ended in disappointment. However, an adaptation of the unadaptable proved to be Pratchett’s last request to his co-author before he died in 2015, and Gaiman set about writing the screenplay for what would become an epic six-part BBC/Amazon co-production.Michael Sheen and David Tennant in Good Omens (2019)So first things first: was the unadaptable, well, adaptable, after all? The short answer is, yes. Gaiman — also showrunner on the series — has pulled off a colourful, quirky, funny, poignant (although not entirely flawless) feat. One might even suspect there’s been a spot of divine (or devilish) intervention… The true triumph is the casting. Michael Sheen shines (quite literally, in some scenes) as the angel Aziraphale, a celestial field agent who teams up with his opposite number, the stylish demon Crowley — played with a Bill Nighy-esque swagger by David Tennant — in order to prevent Armageddon.Michael Sheen and David Tennant in Good Omens (2019)It’s this pairing that proves to be the beating heart of the series. Crowley and Aziraphale have been on Earth since the very beginning, and in their own ways they’ve both “gone native”. Aziraphale owns a Soho bookshop, and likes gravlax salmon with dill sauce. Crowley drives a pristine 1926 Bentley and listens to Queen. They’ve formed a professional agreement not to meddle in each other’s affairs, and in their spare time they’ve enjoyed a series of rather nice clandestine lunches. Every time either actor appears onscreen, you can almost hear the costume department’s (and fandom’s) squeals of joy. David Tennant in snakeskin boots! Michael Sheen with artfully tousled bleached hair! A tartan bow tie! Tennant also sports appropriately flame-red hair (not in the books, but worth it for Doctor Who fans’ realisation that the Tenth Doctor finally got his wish) that frequently changes style. In one particularly memorable moment during episode one, Crowley disguises himself as a bobbed-haired nanny, a Satanic crossover between Nanny McPhee and Mrs Doubtfire.good-omensHe and Aziraphale have a teasing, love/hate relationship that fans of the book have shipped for almost two decades. Gaiman has since promised that “the TV series gets deeper into Crowley and Aziraphale’s relationship,” and some viewers will be hoping that that will translate into a burgeoning romance. Certainly in episode one, Aziraphale seems rather overexcited at the prospect of he and Crowley becoming joint “godfathers” to the infant Antichrist, whose arrival on Earth threatens to catalyse the apocalypse. Gabriel has bright purple irises in the series, a nod to Elizabeth Taylor’s legendary lilac eyes according to the show’s companion book, The Nice and Accurate Good Omens TV Companion. However, as anyone who’s worn thick coloured lenses for Halloween and lived to tell the tale will know, the effect is rather distracting and painful to look at, as are Crowley’s reptilian yellow eyes (thankfully hidden away under trendy shades for much of the show). Gabriel barely appears in the book, and he’s a welcome and much-needed addition to the series: someone to put the proverbial heat on Aziraphale.Michael Sheen and David Tennant in Good Omens (2019)Various sets are also new for the TV show: Heaven is now a vast corporate headquarters, while Hell resembles an overcrowded basement office. A rather gloomier version of The IT Crowd, if you will. Some of the show’s special effects can feel a bit hammy (think Russell T Davies-era Doctor Who with a couple of rubber frogs thrown in), but the scene depicting the entrances to both Heaven and Hell features a pretty cool bit of cinematography, including a mirror effect and an upside-down Tennant. However, despite the addition of characters like Gabriel, much of the show remains doggedly faithful to the books. Reams of dialogue are almost word-for-word during episode one, to the extent that there are certain moments and scenes where one feels that the show’s pace has been sacrificed in favour of preserving the ‘voice’ of the book. Of course, it’s understandable given the circumstances — Gaiman has spoken about the pressure to protect Pratchett’s narrative creations in his absence. For example, he made sure that one of Pratchett’s characters, the 17th century witch Agnes Nutter, remained in the show despite calls to replace her (and an expensive, explosive period shoot) with a series of woodcuts.good-omens-key-art-600x314In Agnes’s case, it makes sense to preserve her: her spookily accurate prophecies drive much of the plot and predict the present-day apocalypse. But there are chunks of God’s narration (voiced by Oscar-winner Frances McDormand) that feel a bit laboured. Some sections, like the bit about demons’ talents for “lurking” around graveyards, must have read well on the page in that distinctive Terry/Neil voice, but in reality they fall rather flat — much like a certain angel’s misguided attempts to pull a rabbit out of a top hat at a children’s birthday party. At the end of the day, however (and according to Agnes Nutter, there aren’t many more days left), the series is a love letter to the book, combining Gaiman and Pratchett’s brilliant characterisation and quippy jokes with vivid, gorgeous sets and memorable costumes.

 

 

REVIEW: SPARTACUS: WAR OF THE DAMNED

CAST

Liam McIntyre (Legend of Hercules)
Manu Bennett (Arrow)
Dustin Clare (Wolf Creek TV)
Daniel Feuerriegel (Winners & Losers)
Cynthia-Addai-Robinson (Arrow)
Pana Hema Taylor (Dead Lands)
Simon Merrells (The Wolfman)
Ellen Hollman (The Scorpion King 4)
Anna Hutchison (Power Rangers Jungle Fury)


RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST STARS

Ditch Davey (Crawlspace)
Christian Antidormi (Strike Back)
Jenna Lind (Burning Man)
Colin Moy (Xena)
Jared Turner (Filfthy Rich)
Anthony Ray Parker (The Matrix)
Stephen Lovatt (Neighbours)
Peter Mensah (Sleepy Hollow)
Todd Lasance (The Vampire Diaries)
Joel Tobeck (Young Hercules)

And so comes the beginning of the end as War Of The Damned brings to its conclusion series’ creator Stephen DeKnight’s take on the story of Spartacus. Picking up where the last arc in the continuity left off, the ever controversial show once again takes us back to the days of ancient Rome to offer up the final chapter of the slave revolt around which the show is based. As with the story arcs that preceded it, the show does not want for sex, nudity and graphic violence, much stronger than most have seen on TV before, but that there is half the charm. Everything about the series, from the performances the set design to the digital effects work is so over the top that it’s hard to imagine the series being nearly as fun had the exploitative elements been toned down in the least. When the story beings, Spartacus (Liam McIntyre) has teamed up with Crixus (Manu Bennett) and Gannicus (Dustin Clare) to lead the slaves in bloody revolt against the armies of the Roman Empire. They won’t win an easy victory but Spartacus figures that to really win their freedom they’re going to have to set up a city fortress of sorts in order to have a location that will serve not only as a stronghold but also as a headquarters.As they set about making this a reality in hopes that once accomplished it will allow them to really ramp up their military operations, the powers that be in Rome lick their wounds and look for ways to replace soldiers lost in battle and refill their coffers. The Senate decides that the best man for this job is a wealthy Roman named Marcus Licinius Crassus (Simon Merrells). He comes in with enough money to help and is more or less put in charge of the military forces dedicated to putting the slaves back in their rightful place. While Crassus sets about doing this, a young Roman man named Julius Caesar (Todd Lasance) is brought on board for the specific purpose of going undercover and making his way into Spartacus’ inner circle. The series sticks to the same formula that made the earlier storylines so much fun: lush production values,  epic and bloody battles, sex, backstabbing political types. A series that makes no qualms whatsoever about playing up not only the decadence of the Roman Empire during which it has been set  but also the more violent side of life during those times. The series is all the better for it. Underneath all of this surface level insanity, however, is the final chapter of a pretty well told story. Characters develop nicely and are given interesting personalities and the various plot lines that are woven throughout the series can occasionally be intricate and genuinely surprising. As such, there’s a good amount of suspense here.McIntyre shines in the lead again, showing a confidence and a naturalness in the part that really helps to carry the series. The other cast members all do good work here as well. Merrells and Lasance are both great on the opposing side of McIntyre and company as the soldiers. Performances are rarely, if ever, subtle but they fit the tone of the story and of the series as a whole. Merrells, in fact, tends to steal any scene he’s in even if he occasionally chews the scenery. Throw Ellen Hollman as a female warrior named Saxa and Cynthia Addai-Robinson as Naevia, Crixius’ main squeeze, and you can see that the ladies not only look great here but they hold their own in front of the cameras as well.The series ends on a high note, bringing together everything it laid out beforehand rather nicely. Would it have been possible to stretch it out further? Sure, but then you run the risk of the series starting to become old hat and with it already being repetitive in certain ways this far in, that was probably a legitimate concern on the part of the writing crew. As it stands now, the series remained a solid watch all the way through, a show that put entertainment first and succeeded in doing so. It’s easy to see why this quickly became and stayed a fan favorite.