Few bright spots in pur­ga­to­rial ‘Mir­a­cle’

San Francisco Chronicle - - DATEBOOK - By Car­los Val­ladares

If you’re look­ing for the tele­vi­sion equiv­a­lent of eye bleach — that is, an ag­gres­sively nice dis­trac­tion from, and di­lu­tion of, real life — look no fur­ther than TBS’ “Mir­a­cle Work­ers,” a new comedy series that stum­bles to make the case for why hu­man­ity is worth all the ef­fort.

The seven-episode lim­ited run, which de­buts at 7 p.m. Tues­day, Feb. 12, stars Steve Buscemi as God — yes, that God, the head of Heaven Inc., a soul­less bu­reau­cracy. Buscemi’s take on the de­ity is as an id­i­otic, small-minded, in­ef­fec­tual lump who dresses like he ran­sacked the Dude’s wardrobe, and whose only plea­sure in life is to see if people en­joy the nasty cock­tails he serves them. He’s not too jazzed about the whole hu­man­ity thing, which he

views as an ob­sta­cle dis­tract­ing him from start­ing an open­moat res­tau­rant where people eat on float­ies. It’s called Lazy Su­sans.

Hu­morist Si­mon Rich adapts the series from his 2012 novel, “What in God’s Name,” about two an­gels (Daniel Rad­cliffe and Geral­dine Viswanathan) in the cen­turies-be­hind-sched­ule Depart­ment of An­swered Prayers. To­gether, they have to save Earth from God’s “wrath” (re­ally, his petty an­noy­ance) af­ter he has made a bet with them: If these an­gels can get the two most so­cially awk­ward people on the planet to fall in love, he won’t de­stroy Earth.

The cou­ple (Jon Bass and Sasha Com­père) are a sickly sac­cha­rine match-made-in­heaven (lit­er­ally). Most of the series is de­voted to the an­gels try­ing to ma­neu­ver these awk­ward-but-down-to-earth mor­tals to like each other, since they’re each too afraid to make the first move. (Cue the ex­cla­ma­tions of “I’ve been there be­fore!” and “Same!” that we are pro­grammed by this show’s cloy­ing plot-beats to emit.)

There’s noth­ing par­tic­u­larly orig­i­nal about Rich’s con­cep­tion of Heaven as an in­ef­fec­tu­ally run busi­ness. If any­thing, it seems stuck in its own time, our own age, in a way that pre­vi­ous af­ter­life clas­sics (Pow­ell and Press­burger’s “A Mat­ter of Life and Death” from 1946, Al­bert Brooks’ “De­fend­ing Your Life” from 1991) aren’t. Rich’s hu­mor is lined with harm­less yuk-yuks: God uses his iPad, which has an an­tenna, to swipe left on ProphetMatch for days; “What am I do­ing? I al­ways fall for the same type: skinny guy, with the beard and the stick …”

The only bright spots are the afore­men­tioned Buscemi, Rad­cliffe’s oc­ca­sion­ally charm­ing odd­ball be­hav­ior (he loves to squirt mus­tard pack­ets into his mouth to cel­e­brate a job well done), and a man named Mike Dunston. His role as TV news­caster Laron Ron St. Claire is ut­terly small and tan­gen­tial to the main nar­ra­tive, but he never fails to bring non-bland, ab­sur­dist plea­sure any time he’s on­screen, sto­ically con­tin­u­ing to de­liver the news (the main events of the show) in a neu­tral, never-chang­ing clip that gets fun­nier each time. De­spite be­ing in­creas­ingly dis­il­lu­sioned by the trau­mas he’s forced to re­count, he marches on: “I worry this news­room will ex­pe­ri­ence a flood of its own tonight. I’m re­fer­ring, of course, to a flood of my own tears.”

Still, “Mir­a­cle Work­ers” is of­ten un­for­giv­ably small-minded — which could be its point. It strains so much for clever zings, then be­comes bulky when it de­votes episode-long sub­plots to killing Bill Ma­her by ex­plod­ing his pe­nis, or hu­mil­i­at­ing the ex­ec­u­tive archangel (Karan Soni) by show­ing him tend­ing to God af­ter the de­ity’s bouts of di­ar­rhea. The New Vul­gar­ity reigns large in “Mir­a­cle Work­ers” — it’s crass and chuck­le­some in a dull way, but it shows that this is (sup­pos­edly) the sal­va­tion of hu­man­ity: our demo­cratic, do­gooder abil­ity to sweat the small and the big stuff in life.

What­ever you say, Mr. Rich.

Cur­tis Baker / TBS

Steve Buscemi stars as a small-minded, in­ef­fec­tual God who heads a soul­less bu­reau­cracy called Heaven Inc. in the TBS series “Mir­a­cle Work­ers,” pre­mier­ing Tues­day, Feb. 12.

Cur­tis Baker / TBS

Geral­dine Viswanathan and Daniel Rad­cliffe play an­gels try­ing to win a bet and save Earth in the TBS series “Mir­a­cle Work­ers.”

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