Is there anything funny about the battle between good and evil? Can it be be taken lightly in any context? Even in the world of fantasy fiction?
These questions were prompted by the new drama series Good Omens which was launched in its six episode entirety on Amazon Prime last Friday. I binge watched in the line of duty!
Considering that the original book was co-written by Terry Pratchett (with Neil Gaiman), it should come as no surprise that the plot is silly and that all sorts of religious faiths, legends and mythologies are jumbled together in a comically occult, but entertaining, hotch potch.
The storyline features a rather foppish angel, Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and a sleazy demon, Crowley (David Tennant), who get along quite well with each other as they go about their business on earth. But they have, in a sense, gone native, got to like the earth so much that they are not too keen when they hear that Armageddon is imminent and their cosy lifestyle will come to an end.
The demon delivers the anti-Christ to a hospital run by satanic nuns but, in a staple of many comedies, the babies get mixed up, and so the anti-Christ is lost.
If a mature believer could get over unease about the ludicrous premise and the digs against God about suffering you might enjoy some of the dubious theological banter.
At times there’s a serious edge to it, as when a modern witch-finder says the Churches don’t do the battle against evil anymore, in this “desperate age”, or when the demon having being described as “fallen” says “I didn’t mean to fall, I just hung around with the wrong people”.
Other times it’s just comical, as when God is described as liking The Sound of Music or when the Angel Gabriel smells something evil about the Aziraphale’s ’s book store, the latter says: “That’ll be the Jeffrey Archer books!”
Frances McDormand plays the voice of God, as a rather detached narrator making quirky comments – I thought this aspect could have been better developed, and the series could have done with a theological advisor.
I was reminded of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, but that had a spiritual depth sorely lacking in this outing. The brief Garden of Eden nudity could have been handled more discreetly and the occasional foul language struck a sour note, especially in a show featuring children. Apart from one dodgy comment the crucifixion scene was handled with respect – thankfully, they resisted the temptation to make a skit of it.
If there’s any philosophical coherence it’s an unsubtle humanistic one – with the other-worldly forces of good and evil seen as capricious and uncaring, and the real battle being between heaven and hell on one side and humanity on the other. As for artistic flaws, it went on too long, and as it was about Armageddon, could have had more dramatic tension.
St Michael the Archangel (female!) made some unflattering appearances but turned up in a more traditional context in St Joan of Arc: Maid for God (EWTN) last Saturday, in the context of an appearance to Joan about her mission. It was an interesting docudrama, not my favourite genre, and unfortunately the dramatised segments were the weakest, though Marie Lussignol, as Joan, did her best with little material.
More interesting was the historical background and some tentative reflections on her role in the light of modern sensibilities. And so, her virtues and commitment to them were emphasised.
A case was made for a righteous kind of patriotism, love of country and nation. Prof. Siobhan Nash-Marshall, author of Joan of Arc, A Spiritual Biography, stressed how Joan insisted on her soldiers being humane, doing the right thing in the right way at the right time, following the strictures of Aquinas.
On the difficult issues of war and peace she said that sometimes the right thing to do was to fight, and that the good thing wasn’t always the nice thing, that right and wrong wasn’t decided by our emotions.
Finally, away from all battles, it was good to see the Music Ministry Together group, with musical director Ian Callanan, providing the music for Mass on Sunday on RTÉ1. I was glad to hear Callanan’s own God Goes Up for the feast of the Ascension, while John Angotti’s I Send You Out could have been Joan of Arc’s theme song!
Pick of the week
SATURDAY MATINEE: LETTERS FROM MOTHER TERESA (AKA THE LETTERS)
RTÉ1, Saturday, June 8, 1.05pm
(2015) Juliet Stevenson as the saint. Drama based on her letters to her spiritual advisor, Fr Celeste.
BBC1, Saturday, June 8, 5pm
(2009) Animated feature about an elderly man and a feisty boy scout. Excellent opening sequence celebrates the ups and downs of marriage.
EWTN, Monday, June 10, 2.30pm, Friday, June 14, 10pm
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Eucharistic Adoration, the Cenacolo community and Marion Mulhall’s worldpriest.com website.