'Miracle Workers': TV Review

There's better elsewhere from the show's creator and its channel.
2/12/2019

TBS' new heaven-set comedy starring Steve Buscemi and Daniel Radcliffe isn't nearly as good as two recent series in the same orbit.

Here's the main problem for Miracle Workers, TBS' new absurdist dreamscape of a workplace comedy — set in heaven with Steve Buscemi as God and Daniel Radcliffe as Craig, a well-intentioned but feeble operative in the Department of Answered Prayers: It's not nearly as good as TBS' last absurdist dreamscape comedy, the now-canceled People of Earth.

Not even close.

Neither is it nearly as good as Miracle Workers creator Simon Rich's previous TV series, Man Seeking Woman, which was an underappreciated gem on FXX.

So, pretty much every second of Miracle Workers is a moment where savvy viewers could say to themselves, "Wow, I really miss People of Earth" and/or "Wow, I really miss Man Seeking Woman." Those sentiments popped into my own mind every 30 seconds or so as I watched TBS (and Rich) try to make a show out of Rich's novel What in God's Name.

You can see the allure the book must have held for TBS, given Rich's bent for arch absurdism (Man Seeking Woman was arguably one of the most inventive little shows in some time, careening through ideas like an elderly Hitler dating a very young woman to rain clouds that followed the main character to a troll-like creature that kicked off the pilot — basically, lots of things that sound like they would work best in an animated series found a home nestled into the weird and funny weekly stories of MSW). On paper, a story where heaven is a collection of departments, each more boring or ridiculous than the last — Dept. of Body Odors, Dept. of Genitals — overseen by a sweat-pants wearing, bored, mostly clueless God might, just might, be transferable to the small screen.

Ah, but it seems much more self-aware of the shtick than Man Seeking Woman ever did, and it's so far from the heights of People of Earth that you begin to wonder how many episodes (there are seven total, and TBS is weirdly calling this both an anthology series and a limited series) one can be patient with until it realizes a modicum of its potential. In the Peak TV era, you never want the audience wondering when something will get good, just to be clear.

Miracle Workers is not bad, it's just trying to be either too cute or too clever and doesn't have much urgency. Radcliffe's Craig only answers easy prayers ("Please God, help me find my keys.") Anything complicated, he stamps "impossible" and sends to God, who is so bored by Earth that he wants to destroy it (but not before killing Bill Maher first, one of the few sharp bits that is funny at first and then degenerates into a dick joke). In the first four episodes, Buscemi is wasted on subpar material. So is Radcliffe for that matter. Perky side characters played by Geraldine Viswanathan and Karan Soni have potential, but again, the mediocre material holds them back and lets the mind wander to better shows, particularly one less interested in heaven and more interested in earth (and aliens).

Cast: Steve Buscemi, Daniel Radcliffe, Karan Soni, Geraldine Viswanathan, Lolly Adefope, Sasha Compere, Jon Bass
Creator: Simon Rich

Airs Tuesdays at 10:30 p.m. (TBS)