The shows Good Omens (Amazon Prime) and Lucifer (formerly of Fox, now on Netflix*) have quite a bit in common on the surface. Both are about angels and devils who decide to come hang out on earth with we mortals, and find us surprisingly compelling. Both shows are based on the creations of Neil Gaiman.
However, Mr. Gaiman actually wrote the script for Good Omens, whereas he hasn’t had much to do with Lucifer, beyond a guest appearance as the voice(over) of God in the last episode of season three. And, that, I think is where the difference between the shows comes in. Mr. Gaiman—and Terry Pratchett, with whom he wrote the book Good Omens—have a very amusing worldview, but it is decidedly not a Catholic worldview. And while both shows have their good and bad points, I’d argue that Lucifer is the MUCH more Catholic of the two.
First things first, let’s answer some of the looming theology questions raised by the shows.
Do angels actually exist? Can they care about/interfere with/help/tempt humans? Yes.
The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls “angels” is a truth of faith. The witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition.Catechism of the Catholic Church 328
Angels are involved in the human world for good:
From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.” Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.Catechism of the Catholic Church 336
And for bad:
Behind the disobedient choice of our first parents lurks a seductive voice, opposed to God, which makes them fall into death out of envy. Scripture and the Church’s Tradition see in this being a fallen angel, called “Satan” or the “devil”.
Scripture witnesses to the disastrous influence of the one Jesus calls “a murderer from the beginning” . . . In its consequences the gravest of these works was the mendacious seduction that led man to disobey God.Catechism of the Catholic Church 391, 394
Can fallen angels repent? Nope. They cannot. Catholic teaching is that, while humans can repent and be forgiven by God, angels cannot. This is because humans have an incomplete understanding of the consequences of our choices. Angels, however, chose with a perfect understanding, therefore they cannot change their minds.
It is the irrevocable character of their choice, and not a defect in the infinite divine mercy, that makes the angels’ sin unforgivable. “There is no repentance for the angels after their fall, just as there is no repentance for men after death.”Catechism of the Catholic Church 393
Can angels eat (Good Omens) or have sex (Lucifer)? Again, no. Angels are “purely spiritual” (CCC 330). While they can appear as humans, they do not have actual corporeal bodies, and so can’t do human body stuff. (See my all-time favorite explanation of what angels look like in the Bible, here.)
I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand and serve before the Glory of the Lord.Tobit 12:15, 19 NABRE
Even though you saw me eat and drink, I did not eat or drink anything; what you were seeing was a vision.
Jesus said to them in reply, “You are misled because you do not know the scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven.”Matthew 22:29-30 NABRE
So, neither show is a good representation of the nature of angels, let’s be very clear on that point. However, if we set aside the theology of angels, both shows DO have an interesting take on the nature of repentance and redemption and the meaning of life as it pertains to humans.
Good Omens is a very hip, stylish, and well-done show. The special effects and the graphics are COOL. The acting is AMAZING. David Tennant walking in this show is EVERYTHING. Superficially, it really appeals to me, as there is very little (and mindfully employed) swearing, no nudity, and only one non-graphic sex scene. (But was I the only one really confused by that sex scene, like, mechanically? How would where they were positioned even work? Probably best not to think about it too much.) The writing is witty and clever. The pacing is excellent. It is fun to watch.
But at its heart, it’s got it all wrong. In Good Omens, not only the humans are agnostic, so are the angels. Impossible of course, see Psalms 96:7, 102:20, Matthew 18:10, and many many others. But here, God is absent, someone takes his calls for him. The good angels aren’t actually good. The bad angels aren’t actually bad. They’re all just selfish and unsympathetic and warmongering. We humans are on our own, and the only things that can save us and our world are woke-ness and friendship. The preaching of the latter, according to Good Omens, being the actual reason Jesus was put to death. It’s all rather cringy.
Lucifer, on the other hand, is superficially more problematic. The title itself makes a Christian likely to scroll right past it. It’s a fantasy/comic book-based show, but functionally, it’s a procedural cop show. That means at least one murder per episode, which I often find to be wearying, genre-wise. And while Good Omens wants most to be hip and witty, Lucifer wants to be edgy and titillating. It began as a network show, so there is no actual swearing (even in season four) and there isn’t any actual nudity, but there is quite a bit of lingerie. There are no graphic sex scenes but there are very frequent mentions of sex, particularly deviant sex.
Sex is the thing that Lucifer gets most wrong, (but Good Omens gets it wrong too). While Lucifer, the character, rightly bemoans the fact that people like to claim that “the devil made me do it,” and points out that people are responsible for their own choices, there is never an indication that NOT having sex out of wedlock or with whoever or multiple whoevers would be a choice that any reasonable person would make, or that God would have any opinion either way. In fact, Lucifer states that porn stars are rare in hell, as they’ve brought so much joy on earth. Eww. And wrong. And the scene of the good angel Amenadiel losing his virginity to a demon manages to be both completely non-graphic and completely gross. Chloe Decker, the main female character, dresses in a conspicuously modest manner (even when it doesn’t fit the plot, I’m actually kind of curious about it) and is admirably immune (so far) to Lucifer’s sexual wiles. But she’s abstinent only until she isn’t and no eyes are batted over it.
In the show, God is Lucifer’s father . . . check. But he also has a creation-goddess-mother . . . not-check.
However, there’s quite a lot that Lucifer gets right about people, and faith, and Catholicism. Season 1, episode 9 features a noble priest character. Later when there is a “bad guy” priest, he’s clearly rogue and gets excommunicated. Even though his aims turn out to have been right, the ways he went about trying to accomplish them were immoral and wrong, and he is handled correctly by his superiors. And there’s a moment when Chloe says it would take a miracle for Lucifer to become a saint, and he quips that it would actually take two. SO awesome.
More importantly, God is REAL and the angels know him. They find him frustrating and confusing but they know that he created them and us. He has a plan for them. He loves them and hasn’t given up on them. No matter how great their sins, they can be redeemed by their choices and actions. And while this is notably untrue for angels, it’s very true for humans, and important for us to know and understand.
Lucifer’s interior state of grace is apparent by the condition of his wings. When he is motivated by love and self-sacrifice, and his choices and actions are good, his wings are angel wings. When he is motivated by evil, his wings are devil wings. The state of his soul is visible in an exterior way. Another character is worried that a life of hedonism and of helping criminals means she is damned, but she repents, and makes amends, and in the end sacrifices her life for a friend, and goes to heaven. Notably missing from the equation are participation in the sacraments and the life of the Church, but what they get right, they get right in a particularly Catholic—faith AND works—kind of way.
So, anyway, I wouldn’t argue that either show is must-watch or must-not-watch for Catholics. I’ve seen a LOT of love for Good Omens amongst Catholics on social media, but in the end, where it counts, the show really fell flat for me, and I wouldn’t watch it again or recommend it to others. Lucifer, on the other hand, I found imperfect (and over-sexed) but ultimately heart-warming, and I plan to keep watching (and glancing away when necessary) when the fifth, and reportedly final, season comes along.
I wouldn’t recommend either for kids or teens, and Lucifer’s sexual content is likely too much for some adults.
*P.S. I know, I know, some folks cancelled Netflix because they said they “may rethink [their] entire investment in Georgia” if the state’s new abortion law goes into effect. Here’s the short version of my take. 1. I believe we are missionaries in a pagan land and boycotts are not the way to change hearts and minds. (See previous posts here and here.) 2. Netflix hasn’t actually pulled any shows out of Georgia. (For the record, Amazon actually already has.) But if they do, it’s a business decision that they are allowed to make. There is no moral imperative to shoot TV shows in Georgia. 3. The tragedy here isn’t that Georgia will (maybe) lose some business, it’s that multiple production companies believe that their actresses will be greatly inconvenienced by not having access to abortions during filming. Boycotts don’t fix that problem. Relationships fix that problem. Boycotts just widen the divide between “us” and “them” and make it less likely that we can engage meaningfully with one another.
P.P.S. The Nativity of St. John the Baptist is coming up on Monday, which means the vigil and the bonfire is Sunday, along with the feast of Corpus Christi! Get the official rite of the Roman Ritual blessing for a Bonfire for the Vigil of St. John the Baptist here as part of the June booklet bundle, or on its own here. See the Catholic All Year Liturgical Living Video on it here. Or, if you’re local, get a ticket here to come to the Mini Fiat Conference at my house and we’ll provide the bonfire for you! But hurry, Friday is the last day to register.