If The Good Place wasn’t enough to scratch your itch for a solid comedy set in the afterlife, TBS’ Miracle Workers is here to answer your prayers. Created by Simon Rich and based on his novel What in God’s Name, Miracle Workers doesn’t reach the same heights or match the narrative ambition of the heavenly NBC comedy, but it still manages to be a clever, breezy joke fest with winning performances and intriguing world-building.
Instead of dissecting philosophy and pondering what qualifies as goodness, Miracle Workers takes on the familiar trappings of a workplace comedy to tell its story. Instead of an unimaginable paradise, Heaven is a bureaucratic corporation where workers toil the day away in departments as specific and banal as the Department of Dirt or the Department of Genitals. The population of Heaven Inc. is stuck micromanaging the happenings of Earth but are still unable to keep things from running smoothly on the pale blue dot, thanks to the incompressible planning of their inept CEO, God (Steve Buscemi), who’s like an even less self-aware version of The Office’s Michael Scott.
Our main characters are Eliza (Geraldine Viswanathan), a new addition to the Department of Answered Prayers, and that department’s sole employee, Craig (Daniel Radcliffe). Eliza is anxious to start making a real difference on Earth, whereas Craig delights in assisting with small prayers, mostly missing keys or a missing glove, too frightened of the chain reactions he could cause by answering bigger prayers. When God decides that Earth cannot be fixed and becomes overly invested in his idea for a new project, a lazy river restaurant concept called Lazy Susan’s, he plans to blow the whole thing up. Not thrilled with the idea of losing their jobs, Craig and the ambitious Eliza make a wager with God, who can’t pass up a bet: if they can get two shy 20-somethings on Earth to kiss within two weeks after they both prayed to “make something happen” with one another, God must spare Earth. If they lose, not only will Earth be destroyed, but Eliza will have to eat a worm “from head to butt” and pretend that she likes it.
Viswanathan displays a lot of the natural charisma she sported in the underrated raunch-fest Blockers, but the real star of the show is of course Radcliffe. American audiences are used to seeing the former Boy Who Lived as brave, heroic, and a natural leader, but here he’s all bug-eyed and nervous, an awkward loner desperately afraid of failure. Radcliffe’s trepidation mixes nicely with Viswanathan’s confidence, making them an utterly charming duo. Likewise, Buscemi’s shaggy, Fail Son take on God scores big laughs, making the annoying boss a natural scene-stealer. However, most of the show’s best material comes from small vignettes that either open or close the episodes, where the show gives you more information about the inner workings of Heaven Inc. and its employees, or when the news on Earth reports on some of the unfortunate consequences of Eliza and Craig’s meddling. Miracle Workers mostly has a cozy “team coming together” vibe, but there is always a sharp undercurrent of dark comedy coursing just below the surface.
The focus on existentialism and trying to date in the modern age makes the show feel like a natural next step for Rich after his surreal FXX series Man Seeking Woman, but unfortunately for Miracle Workers, that show took bigger risks, pushed weirder concepts, and executed them more consistently. Miracle Workers introduces a lot of great gags that are full of potential, like God trying to select a new prophet or a character’s visit with their parents, but frequently botches the landing. Still, the set-ups are solid enough that the lack of follow-through isn’t as detrimental as it sounds. Also, with only seven 22-minute episodes, Miracle Workers never overstays its welcome. It’s probably best suited to be binged.
So while the series doesn’t match creator Simon Rich’s best work and sometimes fails to find the proper punchline, there’s still enough intriguing world-building, wicked flashes of black comedy, and likable lead performances to make Miracle Workers worth the watch. After all, seven episodes isn’t a huge commitment. TBS has said that they’re planning the show to be an anthology series, with subsequent seasons set to feature new casts and new stories, perhaps a second outing could lead to more graceful results.
Miracle Workers premieres Tuesday, Feb. 12 at 10:30 p.m. on TBS
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.