Good Omens: Funny, but that's It

Michael Sheen and David Tennant are fantastic in everything they do. Literally everything. Including Prime's Good Omens. When I saw the preview for this show, I immediately put it on my list. Based on the novella by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, Good Omens tells the hilarious (and exceedingly British) story of an angel and a demon who team up to stop the apocalypse.

Crowley is the demon who appeared in the garden as a snake to tempt Eve. He is the reason for man's expulsion from paradise. Aziraphale is an angel, one with such a tender heart that he gave his flaming sword to Adam on his way out of Eden. There are lions out there, you see. 

Over thousands of years, the angel and demon cross paths many times, often conspiring with each other to get out of work (performing miracles for the angel, tempting good men to evil for the demon). Finally, they are both tasked with helping bring about the apocalypse, specifically, by trying to influence the young antichrist.

The problem? The little boy they think is the antichrist is actually... not. The real antichrist was swapped thanks to a comedy of errors and has lived a peaceful life in the south of England, unmolested by either demon or angel.

Sheen and Tennant are fabulous in their respective roles. Funny, irreverent, whip-smart with the mercilessly dry humor. I enjoyed them very much. But there was something lacking and I found my mind drifting back to Kevin Smith's 1999 film, Dogma, which prompted my parish priest to denounce it as satanic from the pulpit. Obviously, I had to see it. 

Far from being satanic, Dogma takes the Catechism extremely seriously and builds its plot on Catholic dogma (hence the name). Like Good Omens, it features two angels, only they're both fallen. And like Good Omens, it uses religion as a point of humor. But that is where the similarities end.

The supporting cast in Good Omens is bland and meaningless. Adam, the little antichrist, is a beautiful child who says very grownup things. And he has friends who are lovely and say grownup things. That is all. There is a witch named Anathema who exists. And there are demons who are very grumpy (in a very British way). Likewise, there are angels who are officious (again, in a very British way. Except Jon Hamm, who is as close to British as an American can get).

Compare that to the supporting cast of Dogma: Jay and Silent Bob, the hilarious yet strangely devoted duo who help Bethany in her quest. Rufus, the apostle of Christ who was left out of the Bible because he's black (played by Chris Rock at the top of his game). Then there's Metatron, the voice of God, played the late great Alan Rickman. He is both funny (hysterically so) and touching. When you walk into an irreverent comedy, you don't expect to have chills run up your spine. But Alan Rickman standing on top of a river, looking down at Bethany and sadly telling her God cannot hear her anguish... that's exactly what happens.

Good Omens had a scene that should have been similarly eerie. In the second episode, we see Crowley and Aziraphale through time as their partnership evolves. One of the scenes is the crucifixion of Christ. This could have been sad, painful, and a chance to see both of these angels' souls (demons are fallen angels). But no. They just cooly remark on it, both very dry and British, neither remarkably impressed by the sight of Divine intervention or human suffering.

I was left feeling bored after a few episodes of bumbling Hugh Grant-esque comedy, waiting for the moment that Good Omens would say its piece, would make me feel something other than mildly amused. But it didn't. There were some platitudes about the environment of course, including the nonsensical idea that nuclear power is somehow evil. But that's it.

Dogma, on the other hand, used dogmatic Catholicism to reach beyond its source material to reveal the truth of the human soul, the danger of obsession, the forgiveness of a loving God... even if the Almighty does look like Alanis Morissette in a flowy dress.

So while I wouldn't discourage you from watching Good Omens (it's only six episodes), if you're pressed for time, maybe just watch Dogma instead.

Dystopia: The Definition is Wrong

  For this Friday Funday, I am reposting a guest post I did for SFFWorld a few years ago. Though Dystopia is a little out of favor right now, we all know it will come roaring back eventually.

Dystopia: an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one
This is the accepted definition of a Dystopia, one writers and readers alike have embraced. However, since dystopia has become such a popular genre thanks to the YA explosions of the Hunger Games and Divergent, as well as older staples like 1984 and The Handmaiden’s Tale, it’s important to have a discussion on why the accepted definition is wrong, or at least why it should be.
In order for a dystopian society, or more specifically, the characters living within that dystopia, to be believable, there must be upsides. Why is the common citizen, and possibly your protagonist, delighted to live in this society, at least initially? Of course we can blame it on indoctrination. We saw that approach in The Giver. We can blame it on military might as in The Hunger Games or a secretive police faction that makes dissenters disappear, as in 1984 or the film Equilibrium.
The best dystopias, however, should have at least one aspect that is genuinely good—something to which the True Believers cling. We as humans have mastered the art of justification, and your dystopian society should reflect this. My upcoming novel Sunder of Time portrays an alternate timeline in which the Spaniards became the dominant colonizers of North America and 2114 America is a Catholic theocracy with a heavily Spanish hegemony. It is not hard to see where the problems lie. Dissension is ruthlessly snuffed out via imprisonment and deportation for relatively minor offenses, while major offenses can be punished by death. But why would several hundred million Americans—good Catholics all—find this behavior acceptable?
The answer is they are able to point to the benefits of their society—the absence of poverty and unemployment, the peaceful way the early colonizers awarded Native Americans a cordoned off colony within North America and established peaceful trade, the notable lack of ethnic clashes that so afflict other parts of the world. Such benefits make it easy to ignore the horrors going on just out of sight.
Sadly, many authors of dystopian fiction either ignore the calming salve of the masses or throw out something silly. In Judge Dredd, what is the upside of their dystopian world? The lack of legal red tape and some pretty impressive robotic technology. That’s it. Granted, like most comics and graphic novels, Judge Dredd is more character-driven, but the world is important, and the lack of upside to Mega-City One makes it seem more like post-apocalyptic fiction than dystopian. It’s a fine line, but one that matters. Post-apocalyptic fiction and dystopia go hand in hand—the world as we know it ends in some kind of apocalypse, and the dystopian society is what rises from the ashes, bringing order. Writing about eking out survival in a post-apocalyptic wasteland requires no upside; but an effective dystopia does.
Creating any realistic world ultimately relies on the realization that one person’s hell is another’s heaven. The dystopia you are writing about is someone’s idea of utopia—that’s why the current establishment was put into place. The good people of London in Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta wanted a world without fear, and Norsefire gave it to them: “Fear got the best of you, and in your panic you turned to the now high chancellor, Adam Sutler. He promised you order, he promised you peace, and all he demanded in return was your silent, obedient consent.” The strength of V for Vendetta was in the understanding of the common citizen who put this power structure in place and was happy to leave it there; they were happy to feel threatened by their government, so long as the government kept them safe from ‘the other.’