TV

If You’re Looking For A Pleasant End Of The World Comedy In 2019, Try ‘Miracle Workers’


Curtis Baker/TBS

Based on creator Simon Rich’s 2012 novel What In God’s Name, TBS’ Miracle Workers is a “Heaven-set workplace,” where Heaven isn’t quite a place on Earth but is also not a celestial wonderland in the clouds: It’s literally a corporation called “Heaven Inc.,” with God (Steve Buscemi) as its disillusioned CEO, overwhelmed and, frankly, bummed out by the mess Earth has become. Rich was responsible for another high-concept comedy, the highly-underrated Man Seeking Woman, where he took the metaphorical horrors and bizarreness of dating and turned them into actual horrors and bizarreness. But one thing in all the weirdness of Man Seeking Woman was the amount of tremendous, earnest heart at the center of it all. That heart (and a sliver of the weirdness) is present in Miracle Workers too, though it won’t truly fill the Man Seeking Woman sized-hole in your heart. But it’s pleasant enough while it lasts.

At Miracle Workers’ Heaven Inc., the heart starts at the Department of Answered Prayers, where a socially-awkward but tremendously caring angel named Craig (Daniel Radcliffe, continuing his streak of choosing the most unexpected projects) works by himself to answer humanity’s prayers, big and small. (Mostly very, very small.) When fellow angel Eliza (Geraldine Viswanathan) transfers to the department, her desire to make a major difference immediately leads to a big problem. This all coincides with God deciding to call it a wrap on Earth — and really, the entire universe he’s created — and move on to a new project. (A restaurant project somehow much worse than Earth, even though he somehow only gets more invested in it as the season progresses.) In an attempt to fix the mess she made and save humanity, Eliza promises that she and Greg will answer what has been deemed an “impossible” prayer: helping two particular humans fall in love. She and Craig have two weeks to make it happen, or boom goes humanity.

The good news is the actual task to consider the prayer answered is just to get the two humans to kiss. The bad news, however, is that these two humans — Sam (Jon Bass) and Laura (Sasha Compère) — just might be the most awkward pair in the world, and life itself doesn’t do much to help Craig and Eliza out with things. Rounding out the cast are Executive Archangel Sanjay (Karan Soni), who is God’s right-hand man (sometimes literally) and Executive Assistant (who deserves so much better) Rosie (Lolly Adefope), the two angels closest to God, both personally and physically.

Daniel Radcliffe and Steve Buscemi are both executive producers on the series, but Radcliffe’s Craig and the story the show tells allows him to work more as a member of the ensemble than just as “the star” of the series. Buscemi’s God interacts with other characters, but his journey — as he plans for his next, post-humanity endeavor — is truly more about himself. Or, I guess Himself. The way Miracle Workers plays it, God isn’t just disenchanted and also bored: He’s out of touch, and nothing suggests he was particularly good at any of this anyway. He’s needy and petty, and those are just his literal God complex issues. He’s a screw-up too, which honestly explains Earth in the first place.

The more interesting part of the show is the attempt to save the world in two weeks because this version of God is such a loser that his petulance is often just as tiring to watch as it is for the characters to experience. At the same time, God’s behavior is necessary to understand how the other characters function as a result of when the series begins, especially Sanjay and Rosie. The series eventually goes deeper into why God is the way that he is, in general, but it’s really not all that deep. (But that at least involves a guest appearance by comedic delight Tituss Burgess.) This God is not an awesome God, though he thinks he is, and for certain comedic beats, the series certainly thinks he is too. There’s a situation in episode two that exhibits the peak of God’s pettiness and the show’s immaturity. The show is surprisingly dark on a certain level, simply with a bright sheen to cover it. It would be worth a rewatch just to take an accurate death count.

That all said, Miracle Workers is rarely laugh out loud funny. The funniest parts of the show are the clips we see of Earth — the mundane and sometimes insane goings-on, with or without divine intervention — whether they’re small-but-answered prayers, clips from the past, or the series’ news reports, especially. And, of course, there are all the check-ins with Sam and Laura. There’s some fun to be had with the various departments in Heaven Inc. and all the jobs that have to be done (or have never gotten to be done), but that’s where the comparisons to The Good Place come in: While there’s obviously an attention to detail (except for maybe when it comes to timing and the actual countdown clock to the end of the world) in visual gags and certain jokes, it all pales in comparison to The Good Place’s attention to detail.

And in terms of the corporate Hell concept of Heaven Inc., it’s really not the driving focus of the series either. The series’ focus on this bureaucratic version of the afterlife, with divine intervention in terms of the corporate world, is automatically interesting. But those moments are never as funny as the end result, especially the breaking news reports that are a standout of the series. The visual components (from departments to certain machines and functions) are up there too, but that again just speaks to the general cleverness of the show. There’s an investment in what’s going on in Heaven Inc. but really only to hurry up and get to the fallout on Earth.

Miracle Workers is billed by TBS as a limited series, and while it’s the type of show that has the ability to last past its seven-episode order, it’s for the best if the series simply sets out to tell this one story and just stick with that. By the end of the seven episodes, God goes through a much-needed character arc, and anything past these episodes would probably undo that. On the other hand, more episodes could lead to more detailed explanation of the basic rules of this world, because while the season eventually explains things like how an angel comes to be and what gets one into Heaven Inc., God’s backstory and the particular analogy the series goes for with it open up a whole other world of questions that the series doesn’t and probably shouldn’t answer. There’s a large world for the series to unpack, but it doesn’t seem like it cares all that much to do so if even it went on longer.

A big takeaway from this world is just how “random” things are, even up in Heaven Inc. That’s not even accounting for the actions that are the whim of a petty and vengeful God. While The Good Place examines the concept of meaning in life, Miracle Workers is quick to say that meaning doesn’t really exist, or at least not in terms of there being a higher purpose. Craig and Eliza believe otherwise, which is what drives the plot and the story, even if the show itself doesn’t necessarily consider there to be a much larger meaning. It’s the old “If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do” approach (in sitcom form), only not as deep. Still, it’s pleasant enough.

‘Miracle Workers’ premieres Tuesday, February 12th, at 10:30 pm ET on TBS. The pilot is available to watch for free on YouTube.

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