In the US: Tuesdays, 22.30/21.30c, TBS
In the UK: Not yet acquired
Looking at modern politics – perhaps tinted by the prism of middle-age in my case – it’s hard not to conclude as previous generations did that the whole world is going to pot. We’re all doomed, the planet’s doomed. Doomed. To be fair, even kids think we’re doomed, so maybe it’s not just my age here.
To be even fairer, God seems to think the world’s going to pot, too, at least according to TBS’s new limited series Miracle Workers. God – here played by no less a man than Steve Buscemi – is a bit upset with how big his project has become since it was just a few thousand people in the stone age. To be honest, he’s having a bit of a slump. In fact, he’d much rather focus on his hobbies.
Meanwhile, minor angel Geraldine Viswanathan has been toiling away in Heaven’s ‘dirt’ department for millennia. She’s full of hope for the future and wants to work somewhere else, so is overjoyed when she’s transferred to the ‘unmet prayers’ department. There she finds God hasn’t increased the department’s resources since he started the project, meaning that Harry Potter (aka Daniel Radcliffe) is the only member of staff in the department – and he can fix maybe four prayers a day, tops, since he’s required to obey the laws of physics when doing so, just so no one can say for sure who saved their bacon.
But when Viswanathan points out all these problems to God and that the world needs fixing, He decides that maybe she has a point… and decides it’s time to bin the whole thing. Fortunately for us, she strikes a bet with God – if she can fix one impossible prayer within the next fortnight, Earth will be saved. What’s she got to do?
Make two humans fall in love.
Angel meets Angeless
If any of that seems a bit odd, it’s best to know that this limited series is based on Simon Rich’s book What in God’s Name – TV viewers will know Rich as the creator of Man Seeking Woman, an extended series of metaphors made real about dating in modern America.
Miracle Workers sits firmly in the same area as Man Seeking Woman and could indeed be a single episode of that show extended over seven episodes, particularly since we have both the mortal love affair to arrange and a growing attraction between Radcliffe and Viswanathan.
As you might expect, that’s also the general backdrop to the show’s take on religion, with Heaven basically being an underfunded US government agency or company. Cuts coming up? Do we get rids of the bears or the dogs then? Earth about to be destroyed? Let’s rip up the plans for new and improved humans, to be rolled out in 2035, then. After all, we’re just going to be reassigned to a swirling ball of dust, still forming in another galaxy, aren’t we?
All of which gives us some genial, affable comedy. Nothing hilarious, but some decently amusing takes on the human condition and the difficulty for angels of doing something beneficial for one human that doesn’t screw the world up for the others.
Buscemi is perfectly cast as a blue-collar deity who just can’t be bothered any more and would rather clock-off ASAP. Radcliffe seems to think he’s still in Equus, shouting to the audience at the back, and could do with dialling back his performance about 50%. Viswanathan has the same thankless job and character as Vanessa Hudgens did in Powerless, albeit with less of a love for superheroes. Taskmaster‘s Lolly Adefope has had roughly two lines so far as God’s PA, but I’m hoping for more in later episodes.
But given that we haven’t even properly met our two mortals, it’s a little too early to judge Miracle Workers properly. We’ve had a flavour of the show, but until we see how Radcliffe and Viswanathan set about solving this impossible prayer, we’re still missing an important element of the format. Cue magical realist intercessions by the angels in mortal affairs to highlight how love and dating feels to us humans? Probably. But maybe not.
I enjoyed what I saw. I’d happily watch more. But it was a bit flimsy and I didn’t love it as much as Man Seeking Woman. I can easily see myself losing interest quickly if the joke contingent doesn’t get amped up. Let’s see how it goes.