This Miracle Workers: Dark Ages review contains no spoilers.
One of the stranger aspects of our current TV landscape is watching the life expectancy of shows clearly conceived as limited series stretched out to fulfil the ever-present need for more content. A high-profile series like Big Little Lies, which continued beyond its source material to diminished returns in an unexpected second season, seems to be the go-to example, but there’s other series like The White Queen, The Young Pope, and True Detective that at least appeared to be one-and-done affairs that were brought back for more. In the case of a Fleabag, that can be a good thing, but other times you get an unnecessary continuation like Miracle Workers: Dark Ages.
It’s worth noting that TBS seemingly planned on Miracle Workers being an anthology series, with additional seasons set to feature new casts and new stories. However, the first season only received a lukewarm response from critics and was mostly ignored by the general public, so it wasn’t as if the world was clamoring for more Miracle Workers and that it was a foregone conclusion that it would (and should) return. Also, the main characters of Miracle Workers: Dark Ages are all portrayed by the principal cast of the first season – Daniel Radcliffe, Steve Buscemi, Geraldine Viswanathan, Karan Soni, and Jon Bass are all back in new roles and a new story. So much for a new cast; Miracle Workers: Dark Ages takes the Ryan Murphy approach. Unlike American Horror Story, there really doesn’t appear to be an overarching theme connecting the seasons (what makes these Dark Ages characters “Miracle Workers”?) but perhaps that will come later in the season.
Anyway, if the first installment of TBS’ Miracle Workers was a “clever, breezy joke fest with winning performances and intriguing world-building,” Dark Ages nixes the intriguing world-building for an immediately familiar medieval setting and seems content on telling one joke over and over again, that joke being “Man, weren’t people in medieval times stupid and barbaric?” It doesn’t help that we’ve seen this concept done to death, to high success like Monty Python and the Holy Grail and high (in more ways than one) failure like Your Highness. Dark Ages keeps those winning performances, but viewers will find themselves wishing for a better vehicle for Radcliffe, Buscemi, and especially Viswanathan’s charisma.
The series loosely follows Viswanathan as Alexandra Shitshoveler, a bright young woman who aspires to more than following in her father’s footsteps as a, you guessed it, shit shoveler. We also spend significant time with Radcliffe’s Prince Chauncley, another Fail Son in the mold of last season’s God, and Lord Vexler, an ambitious social climber played by Soni, as they try to broker peace with a nearby hostile tribe of outsiders. Alexandra is uncommonly aware of how depraved and backward the era she lives in is and most of the characters speak in anachronistic dialogue, the show’s only other joke vehicle, to match the series’ music cues. Creator Simon Rich occasionally serves up an inspired bit of silliness, but without the high-concept trappings of last season or the surreal tangents of his past series Man Seeking Woman, nothing musters up more than a smirk.
Frankly, it’s a waste of the talent on-hand and a waste of time for anyone who’s seen a Middle Ages-set comedy before. In the three episodes screened for review, the only true bright spot was a guest appearance by comedian Jon Daly as a charlatan doctor. Dark Ages isn’t particularly offensive, it just feels bland and one-note, especially compared to the ambitious setting and gags served up last season. It would be a true miracle if the series returns for a third outing, but in today’s TV landscape, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. I just hope Radcliffe, Viswanathan and Buscemi find a story that is worthy of their talents.
Nick Harley is a tortured Cleveland sports fan, thinks Douglas Sirk would have made a killer Batman movie, Spider-Man should be a big-budget HBO series, and Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson should direct a script written by one another. For more thoughts like these, read Nick’s work here at Den of Geek or follow him on Twitter.