Even though Miracle Workers is based on Simon Rich’s 2012 novel “What In God’s Name,” it still feels perfectly tailored to the world of 2019. A world that’s run amok. A world without hope. As Angela Kinsey, playing a cynical rep in the Department of Angel Resources, explains early on in the premiere episode:
It’s way too late to fix Earth. It’s not 30,000 BC anymore. It’s not 20 jacked naked people and a buncha rockin’ dinosaurs getting nasty in some sick ass cave somewhere.
But it’s one thing for us, the regular people living in Trump’s America and watching the ice caps melt, to bemoan how times have changed and say that it’s too late to fix Earth. It’s another thing for Heaven to say that — and for God Himself to agree.
And that’s the gimmick of Miracle Workers in a nutshell. Heaven is actually “Heaven Inc,” a gargantuan and outdated corporation tasked with operating all the minutiae of our world, from clouds to dirt to volcanos. And angels are the distracted grunt workers who have been overworked and undervalued for thousands of years. Grunts who are going through the motions while their product — our world — spins further and further out of their control. If you were expecting angels to have some powers to use to set things straight, think again. They are beholden to nepotism and red tape, budget cuts, and bad management. And speaking of “bad management,” at the top of it all is God — the one being who could, in fact, shake a wing and make things happen, but who doesn’t. Over the millennia, he’s become disheartened by the way Earth has turned out. How big it’s gotten, how unwieldy — and how little it seems to care about him anymore.
He’s a beer-guzzling, bored, broken bum of a deity, and he’s played to absolute perfection by Steve Buscemi.
And though God and His sidekick Sanjay (played by Karan Soni, who is a master of reaction shots) are scene-stealers, they’re not the heart of this show. That honor goes to Eliza (Geraldine Viswanathan), an angel who actually wants to make a difference. She gets transferred to the Department of Answered Prayers, where she finds Craig (Daniel Radcliffe), the only angel left handling all the prayers in all the world — though to be fair, when he started the population was a LOT smaller. To Eliza’s surprise, answering prayers isn’t a simple thing, considering they can’t break the laws of physics to cause actual miracles. They can only rely on “discreet natural phenomena” — e.g. helping a woman find her lost keys by melting the snow around them, flake by flake, until she can see them.
In fact, most of the prayers Craig’s been answering involve finding lost things, because anything larger in scope than that — from saving a man from being devoured by wolves to saving dying crops — involves too many factors to calculate. Change the weather patterns to send rain to one place, and you’ll cause a typhoon elsewhere. So all those bigger prayers get marked “impossible” and kicked upstairs to God… who ignores the stack growing in his inbox and does nothing, because why even bother.
Craig is satisfied with his lot in life, but finding lost keys and ignoring impending deaths is not what Eliza had planned for herself. So she storms into God’s office and demands that He do something about all this.
And He agrees! In fact, He announces to the company that He’s going to destroy Earth altogether. Just scrap the whole damn thing and be done with it (which is a real shame, because we were due to get talking dogs AND flying horses within the next decade). To prevent this from happening, Eliza makes God an offer he can’t refuse: If she can solve any single “impossible” prayer herself, God will spare Earth. And if she fails… He wants her to eat a worm. So He hands over his inbox, and she and Craig pick what is either the easiest or hardest prayer of them all: making two people fall in love.
Miracle Workers is being billed as an anthology series, and though I don’t know what future seasons will have to offer, it’s clear that at least this first season will follow Eliza and Craig as they attempt to save the world (and likely fall in love themselves, if Radcliffe’s extreme puppy dog eyes in the last scene are any indication). It’s easy to compare this series to workplace comedies like The Office or more philosophical ones like The Good Place, but I think it’s trying to land somewhere in between — or somewhere else entirely. The original novel has been rightly compared to “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy,” and Simon Rich himself penned the TV adaptation. Though the premiere, which was directed by The Lonely Island’s Jorma Taccone, doesn’t get much farther than establishing the very particular set of circumstances this story will be operating in, the irreverent humor and gifted cast all shine. And while it feels perfectly on-brand to watch a sitcom about a worthless God looking at the world and saying “f*ck it — let’s start over” in 2019, it’s not just about that one cheap, cynical laugh. Even if the world seems hopeless, we can still spend a half hour each week watching a plucky angel do her best to overcome Heavenly bureaucracy and Godly malaise to do something about it. And that something is love! Maybe even Harry Potter love! I mean, that ain’t gonna save the ice caps but it’s a reasonable distraction at the very least. I’ll take what I can get.
Miracle Workers airs Tuesdays at 10:30pm EST on TBS, and the first episode is available to watch on YouTube here.
Header Image Source: TBS