Steve Buscemi is God, Daniel Radcliffe is an angel, and the Earth is about to explode. That pitch ought to be enough to make you give the new tbs limited series Miracle Workers a shot. And once you’ve tuned in, you might as well stick around for the mere seven episodes of this cute, offbeat look at the afterlife.
Created and written by Simon Rich (the mind behind FX’s late but excellent Man Seeking Woman) the show is based on Rich’s novel What in God’s Name? A distractible and deadbeat God (Buscemi) is fed up with Earth and ready to toss the whole thing. The only hope of salvation is a bet devised by two angels in the Answered Prayers department of Heaven — if they can get two humans to fall in love in two weeks’ time, the world will be spared. Unfortunately the humans in question (Sasha Compère and Jon Bass) are very, very awkward. And the angels (Radcliffe and Blockers’ Geraldine Viswanathan) are very, very bad at answering prayers.
In other words, Heaven’s kind of a mess. And so is Earth. But that’s what makes the show endearing, as the angels bumble their way through with blatant disregard for life, and the poor humans below try to figure it all out.
An afterlife comedy following a good looking ragtag group under the questionable guidance of a charming and beloved older male actor, Miracle Workers is destined to be compared to The Good Place. But while it’s not an unwarranted comparison, it might be an unfair one.
That’s because Miracle Workers is forging its own path. It has a rougher quality to its comedy and storytelling, and that works in its favor. The jokes are harsher, meaner, (though it’s not hard to be meaner than The Good Place) and it becomes clear pretty quickly that Heaven is an uncaring, chaotic place. In their efforts to stave off the end of the world, the angels pull out all the stops, and people down below are crushed, exploded, and tormented without a second thought. It makes for some of the best comedy in the series.
But while there’s a lot of humor in the harshness of the Miracle Workers universe, there’s a certain solace in it, too. Heaven is an incompetently run company, Earth is a confusing mess, and humans have been dealt a loser hand. No one’s in charge, everyone’s winging it, and appendices burst at the push of a well-worn button. If you’ve ever felt inadequate at your own job, you’ll find yourself thankful the stakes you’re working with aren’t quite so high, and if you’ve ever felt personally attacked by a higher power, you’ll be glad to know there’s a reason… albeit a bad one.
It’s a take on the uncaring nature of the universe that’s so brutal it comes full circle to comforting.
The best byproduct of this is a running gag in which the humans who get the most screwed over by Heaven, the passersby who get blown up or financially ruined in the most horrific ways, are always the kindest, most philanthropic pillars of their community. It’s funny, of course, but it raises an interesting question — on this loser of a planet that no one really cares about, is there anyone who isn’t a paragon of virtue?
Maybe humanity’s actually doing alright, and nobody bothered to check.
Themes aside, Miracle Workers is just plain entertaining. The ensemble scenes have a natural, easy comedic timing that can usually be traced to, of all people, Daniel Radcliffe. (Swiss Army Man already earned him another full decade of goodwill in my book, but he is genuinely often the funniest person onscreen here). And while Steve Buscemi could probably have done anything as God and nailed it, he embodies “deadbeat idiot” perfectly with his unwashed hair, five o’clock shadow, and impressive array of loungewear that extends all the way from ratty sweatpants to ratty bathrobe. Backing them are a panoply of comedic actors, many in one-off roles that really elevate the show, encouraging you to stick around just to see who shows up next.
Miracle Workers is a little show. It’s rough not just in its humor, but in its quality — it feels a little low-budget, a little unpolished. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and it actually heightens the sense that Heaven and Earth are their own unrefined, small-beans project. It’s also only seven episodes long and it is, at least for now, a finite miniseries. The show won’t continue, regardless of ratings, and honestly that’s a little refreshing.
It’s a contained story, and while it’s not breaking any new ground, it’s a solid, charming show that will make you laugh out loud over and over. It may not be daring in scope, but it’s surprising enough in little ways that it keeps you watching and thoroughly entertained. And it’ll trick you into feeling optimistic about humanity and weird little old Earth. We could use more shows like Miracle Workers.
Miracle Workers premieres on Tuesday, February 12th at 10:30pm ET/PT on tbs.