“Miracle Workers” debuted Tuesday on TBS. Here are some key points on the new series.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: God (Steve Buscemi) runs Earth from his aerie in the corporate offices of Heaven Inc., a sprawling corporation in (well) heaven that employs thousands of angel workers who run various departments that have direct bearing on every facet of reality on Earth, from the making of clouds or snowflakes to the control of human affairs. In one office, the department of unanswered prayers, Craig (Daniel Radcliffe) — who is overwhelmed by the volume of requests — gets help from Eliza (Geraldine Viswanathan).
Meanwhile, God has decided to obliterate Earth so that he can begin work on his next big project (a chain of restaurants). Horrified, Craig and Eliza beg him to spare the Earth. God makes a bet with them: If they can make two people down here, Laura (Sasha Compère) and Sam (Jon Bass) fall in love, then he’ll spare the planet.
This Lorne Michaels-produced, seven-episode series is based on Simon Rich’s (FX’s “Man Seeking Woman”) comic novel, “What in God’s Name.”
MY SAY: “Miracle Workers” imagines a God who is unengaged, unkempt, capricious, casually cruel, bored, narcissistic, also mean spirited, illiterate and not particularly bright. There have been other variations of this sort of God throughout history, like Descartes’ Evil Demon or the Neoplatonic “demiurge.” This, however, is the first instance of a God who looks like Steve Buscemi.
A God who looks like Valley Stream native Buscemi is only half the joke and not even the better half of it: This is also the Buscemi of “Boardwalk Empire” (Nucky Thompson) and “30 Rock” (Lenny Wosniak), as well as “The Sopranos” (Tony Blundetto, “Spy Kids” (Romero), “The Big Lebowski,” “The Wedding Singer,” “Fargo” and just about any other Buscemi movie or TV character that comes to mind. They’re all variations of the same theme, or same Buscemi, anyway — slightly unhinged, slightly demonic, effortlessly comic (even when they’re not supposed to be).
His God is also an incompetent overseer of a hopelessly antiquated corporation that still uses pneumatic tubes for interoffice memos in a workplace that looks like it could use a fresh coat of paint to cover the gum holding the place together. The decision-making process is Rube Goldbergian, while the consequences of those decisions are almost invariably unintended and catastrophic. That’s why God takes the bet with Craig and Eliza. What could go wrong? From their perspective, just about everything.
Meanwhile, think of all this series as one long joke, off which break little eddies of jokes, and from these more eddies still, until “Miracle Workers” presents as one big frothy multitudinous collection of them. A few of those jokes and gags — most of them really — circle quickly down the drain, out of sight. (Thankfully too — like an extended bit about God’s punishment of Bill Maher.)
Fewer don’t, unfortunately, although at least the best gags are funny indeed.
The rest of the cast is good, from the hopeless unrequited lovebirds Sam and Laura, to God’s righthand hatchet man, Sanjay (Karan Soni). Radcliffe — who couldn’t mess up a role if he worked at it, even one as slight as Craig — and Viswanathan have some chemistry, which should help them through the next chapter.
And that’s where the real problem presents itself: There’s another season to go after this, maybe more? There is, and after sitting through almost four hours of “Miracle Workers” (best to binge, by the way, when its TBS run is complete) you may come to the same conclusion I did. This joke runs long and eventually dry, too. One season is more than enough.
BOTTOM LINE: Some genuine charm here and Buscemi; otherwise premise, story and that joke get old — fast.