Few bright spots in purgatorial ‘Miracle’
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.
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.
Geraldine Viswanathan and Daniel Radcliffe play angels trying to win a bet and save Earth in the TBS series “Miracle Workers.”