God Is Too Bored to Answer Your Prayers in ‘Miracle Workers’
God works in frustrating ways in TBS’s new comedy series “Miracle Workers.” It’s the latest attempt at imagining Heaven as something quite worldly and dysfunctional, poking fun at all those questions we have about the possibilities of a deity. The highlight here is Steve Buscemi, who plays God like a hybrid of The Dude and Howard Hughes. If you doubt his existence it’s probably because he’s passed out on the couch per this show. Some of “Miracle Workers” is funny, but the real challenge is rising past a mere, cute idea.
Eliza (Geraldine Viswanathan) is not happy with her job in Heaven, officially “Heaven, Inc.,” and would like to transfer into another department. She’s been at the Department of Dirt for too long and is sent now to the Department of Answered Prayers, where Craig (Daniel Radcliffe) spends his time meanderingly answering a prayer here and there. He will slowly melt the ice off the keys of someone looking for them in the woods. The “impossible” prayers he simply sends over to God (Buscemi), who ignores them because, well, they’re impossible. After accidentally causing a deadly typhoon while trying to answer a prayer, Eliza goes to speak with his drunken holiness. The opposite of her intentions happens when God decides he wants to blow up Earth. It’s such a mess why not just do away with it? Eliza then claims the impossible prayers are not so hopeless. God strikes a bet, if she can answer at least one impossible prayer, he will not cast his fury down upon the world.
It’s a simple premise for the pilot of a show attempting to cover such a cosmic theme. “Miracle Workers” succeeds on one level but then leaves many questions about its world simply hanging around. First, what works are at least half of the gags. Imagining Heaven as a corporate or worldly operation is an old trick. Many times it has worked very well in shows like “The Good Place” and movies like “Bruce Almighty.” The Department of Answered Prayers is a gloomy, empty section of Heaven, Inc., which makes sense because our prayers are rarely, if ever answered. God ponders punishing the famously heretical Bill Maher by doing something to his penis and Craig’s screen is hilarious to view, as people on Earth plead with their wishes. The opening moments of the series premiere have some cute gags showing Heaven’s various departments where budget cuts means some species might have to go extinct. There’s even a department in charge of “Volcano Safety.” There’s rarely a sense of getting truly edgy with this material, it’s never offensive, just light.
But as we watch Eliza and Craig go through prayers and then debate with the almighty, the show simply fails to fully click because of certain gaps in its world. How does someone like Eliza end up working in Heaven? How does anyone here work in Heaven? Did God simply make them? Are they angels? And if God does indeed exterminate Earth, will he simply make another one? There’s a moment where God is telling his assistant, Sanjay (Karan Soni), about plans for a new restaurant. Sanjay logically asks where it would even go if the world is gone. “Space,” is God’s answer. Alright, but what does that mean? And if Earth is blown up, will all its souls then move into Heaven, Inc.? Without a world Heaven’s employees need to find new jobs and Craig is told he might be sent to another star system. This is a comedy, not a theological essay, but the show is so caught up in its jokes about Heaven that it doesn’t fully build a concept of it. More thought could have also gone into the one impossible prayer Eliza decides to take on. It would have been more enticing if the showrunners had settled on a truly hard challenge, instead of going for the cliché of trying to make a love match happen.
What does make the show quite watchable are the performances by Buscemi and Radcliffe. Buscemi’s God is tired, bored and just needs a White Russian to fully evoke The Dude from “The Big Lebowski.” Radcliffe brings the kind of angst-ridden comedic charm he’s done so well on film, and in other series like “A Young Doctor’s Notebook.” Geraldine Viswanathan, who was quite good in last year’s raunchfest “Blockers,” proves here she can be a good lead in a comedy series. She’s determined, likeable and with excellent timing.
“Miracle Workers” is imitating better titles, even as it features some great talent in its leads. It’s worth watching for Buscemi’s turn as a bored deity, but as of now its vision of Heaven offers few reasons for conversion.
“Miracle Workers” season one premieres Feb. 12 and airs Tuesdays at 10:30 p.m. ET on TBS.