I have written before about the TV comedy The Good Place and now there is apparently another one called Miracle Workers. I have not seen the latter show because it is on a network that I don’t get but it is based on a novel of the same name by Simon Rich that I read recently. Both shows take an irreverent attitude to the idea of an afterlife but while the The Good Place takes this as an opportunity to examine the question of what ethics and morality consists of and leaves gods out of the picture entirely, Miracle Workers focuses on the life of god and the people who work for him, mainly those who work in the Department of Answered Prayers.
God in the book is somewhat like The Dude in The Big Lebowski, an aimless, bathrobe-wearing, beer-drinking, TV-watcher who is bored with his big creation of the Earth and is more interested in starting an Asian-fusion restaurant. (Interestingly enough, he is played by the always admirable Steve Buscemi who acted in The Big Lebowski.) Daniel Radcliffe plays a conscientious worker in the Department of Answered Prayers and the book answers one of the big questions: How come that god’s miracles are not obviously so? The book says that according to the rules, the workers must arrange it so that the miracles must not obviously violate the laws of science but should be such that they could plausibly be explained away by natural causes.
When it comes to acting, Radcliffe has gone well beyond his Harry Potter origins, taking on a wide variety of edgy roles on stage and screen. He is not a religious believer and in an interview, he discusses this and the other roles he has played.
Miracle Workers, which premieres on TBS Tuesday, is based on the 2012 novel from Simon Rich (Saturday Night Live, FXX’s Man Seeking Woman), What in God’s Name. The novel and the series imagines the afterlife as a poorly run corporation called Heaven, Inc., lorded over (literally) by God, in this case a petulant and incompetent man-child with no business acumen played by Steve Buscemi.
Radcliffe plays Craig, a low-level worker drone who happens to be an angel, relegated to the drab Department of Answered Prayers. Forget any wonderment you’d imagine an angel could attain from making people’s wildest dreams come true. Those are branded with a red stamp that says, “IMPOSSIBLE,” and filed away to the oblivion of paperwork. No, the prayers Craig actually can answer are comically pathetic. A lot of helping people find their keys. It gives him great joy.
A prayer comes into Craig’s department from a man begging heaven to stop a pack of wolves from eating him. Craig takes his red stamp and stamps it “impossible.” Then he smiles, satisfied with a job well done.
That Heaven is nothing compared to the show’s assessment of God. Buscemi’s CEO, Lord, and Savior is never without an open beer. He’s a joke to the Heaven, Inc. workers. He decides to end earth to give him more headspace and concentrate on his next passion project: a Lazy Susan-themed restaurant. (You float in a lazy river around an island that houses chefs.)
When you meet God in the pilot, he is watching news reports on all the war and destruction happening on Earth. Exasperated, he changes the channel. “I think that’s something we can all relate to at the moment,” Radcliffe says.
It is interesting how these TV shows are spurring discussions of questions such as what truly constitutes virtue.