God, as played by Steve Buscemi, is having a midlife crisis, and part of his trying to deal with it is to remove the distraction of the Earth. Seriously. The entire planet is scheduled to be blown up in two weeks time so that the almighty can shift his energies from humans to his dream of a river restaurant inspired by the Lazy Susan. Our survival comes down to angels Craig (Daniel Radcliffe) and Eliza (Geraldine Viswanathan), and God’s right-hand man Sanjay (Karan Soni), who must answer the seemingly impossible prayer of helping two humans fall in love. Welcome to the world of TBS’ Miracle Workers.
Currently in the middle of its first season (the episodes to date available on the network or the TBS app), the show is based on the novel by series creator Simon Rich, who explains, “I wouldn’t describe our show as a religious satire. It’s more of an existential show. It was always my hope to try to portray a vision of heaven that’s consistent with our experience of being on this planet. If you walk around this planet, it sometimes feels like things happen randomly and irrationally and unfairly and horribly all the time, so I thought, ‘Well, maybe one explanation for that would be that the guy upstairs is in the middle of a full-on midlife crisis, and the people who work for him are in a system that is hopefully mismanaged at every single level.
“In our show,” he continues, “God is not omnipotent. In our show, God is the founder and CEO of Heaven, Inc. and he is very human. He has real flaws. He started Earth with a lot of good intentions. He came up with a model for it, which he lovingly made out of paper Mache. He drew some animals that he thought were good ideas at the time, and, unfortunately, the project just got way too hard for him to manage. It started with a bang, but then it just didn’t scale well, like so many startups. Now he’s in a situation where he doesn’t want to throw good money after bad.”
That element is certainly what appealed to Boardwalk Empire‘s Steve, 61, who admits, “That’s what I liked about him is that he’s got a lot of problems and he’s often overwhelmed and confused and just a little bit lazy. But I think he’s got a good heart. He’d like things to work out, but he’s kind of in over his head. But, like I said, I think his initial idea was good and it was fun and interesting and engaged people’s free will. But he just doesn’t know how to contain it or run it and it’s overwhelming and he just checks out. So it was really fun to play a god that has very human qualities.”
But there is hope for God. “Over the course of the season,” Simon notes, “the character falls back in love with his creation. In episode six, God goes back to visit his family and you find out that our God, the one Steve plays, comes from a very high-achieving family of gods who have all created utopian planets where there’s no death and people live forever. And our God is sort of the black sheep of this family. His mother, played by Margaret Cho, is extremely disappointed in him and the relationship is tense. From there you kind of get the sense that God really did try his very best and there’s a real vulnerability to the character and a sweetness. Even though he’s ostensibly our antagonist, since 10 minutes in he decides to blow up Earth, but in the end, he’s on the side of hope for better or for worse.”
Getting there, of course, isn’t easy. Or without lots of death. “We probably have the highest body count of any rom-com in history,” muses Simon. “This is a show where, basically, two humans pray to be a couple and the angels are trying to make that a reality. But there is constant collateral damage. They’re constantly, inadvertently, causing typhoons, and terrible things are happening to innocent, undeserving people. It sounds like a very nihilistic show, because it’s a show that posits a cosmology where, basically, everything in human history is random and meaningless and accidental, but it’s also a show in which miracles are possible and in which individuals are capable of making good things happen in small ways every day. So it’s superficially defeatist, but ultimately kind of sweet.”
One point that Daniel, 29, makes is that there is nothing malicious being done on the part of the angels. “I think,” he says, “there are unforseen consequences for our actions, but it’s not a consequence of Sam and Laura asking to be made a couple. Basically, you get some very well-intentioned actions leading to some very bad things, but there’s not a sense of karma.”
Elaborates Simon, “At its core, it’s about a bunch of earnest, young people trying to pull off an insane mission against all odds. It’s sort of like a cross between The Old Testament and The Goonies. It’s about a group of plucky underdogs who have to overcome their differences and work together to save the world.”
Miracle Workers is airing now on TBS.
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