There’s a lot of high concept sitcoms around these days what with The Good Place, The Tick, Corporate, Search Party and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, sure there’s a lot of shows which are still a bunch of friends hanging out but increasingly audiences seem to want more and more from their comedy, and there’s nothing more high concept than Miracle Workers. Set in Heaven with Steve Buscemi playing a rather petty God, he’s decided to blow up the Earth as he thinks it’s all been a bit of a failure (logic you can’t really argue with) and is far more interested in creating a new restaurant, even if there wouldn’t be anyone to visit it.
Fortunately for humanity Angels Eliza (Geraldine Viswanathan) and Craig (Daniel Radcliffe) wish to save us all, which is jolly nice of them. Both work in the Answering Prayers department, which used to revolve around helping people find their keys or clothes as Craig found other wishes far too complicated, if not impossible, but now Eliza has joined him and is hellbent (er, well maybe that’s not the best term) on making the Earth a better place. In the first episode they made great use of this concept and showed just how complicated it was to help even a single human, with one attempt spiralling out of control and leading to the deaths of thousands, and another letting a killer get away scot-free, but hey, at least Eliza tried which is more than you can say for God. Radcliffe is fantastic in the role of the reluctant Angel who’s slowly coming out of his shell and becoming more confident, and Viswanathan matches him acting wise and provides a much needed warmth to events.
Buscemi is also on fantastic form, he’s always been great when it comes to comedy and here he plays God like a bored twentysomething, happy to make stupid bets to pass the time but uneasy with the concept of doing anything which might improve our lives, indeed he’s easily agitated by mankind, though slightly obsessed with watching anyone who praises him. Somewhat petulantly he decides he just can’t be arsed anymore and so just chooses to kill everyone, but Eliza challenges him to a bet – if she can answer one supposedly impossible prayer in two weeks then he’ll let the Earth stay as it is. Confident that such a thing is impossible he agrees, childishly saying that Eliza has to eat a worm if she fails, because he really does get his kicks from being a bit of a dick. This leads to Eliza and Craig going through all of the prayers which humans make that are completely unrealistic in a really cute segment, until they find one they think they have a chance with – helping two individuals, Sam and Laura, fall in love with each other.
The second episode begins with what’s the strongest joke of the series so far, with God watching Bill Maher and disliking him enormously due to his atheist beliefs, and even though he’s planning on blowing up the Earth he still wants Maher dead sooner than that. Discussing ways on how to kill him with his assistant Sanjay (Karan Soni, superb throughout) who’s been forced in to agreeing to such an act even though he doesn’t want to go through with it, there’s a great deal of funny moments as they talk about whether Maher should die via an exploding heart or an exploding penis.
Thus Sanjay heads off to the department of genitals, the fact that heaven has such a thing is perversely funny alone, but when he asks a staff member to explode Maher’s penis they don’t know what to do and so just give him a bigger penis, much to God’s horror. Sanjay rushes off to shout at the Genital Angels (now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write) only for them to explain that as they made Maher’s penis bigger it became more beautiful and they couldn’t bring themselves to destroy it, stating “This isn’t the department of anuses, we have integrity”. And if that doesn’t make you laugh I don’t know what will. Unless you think about it in detail and start imagining Bill having sex with himself and then feel sick, I guess I could kind of understand that.
Meanwhile Craig and Eliza are trying to get Sam and Laura together, with Eliza commenting on how people don’t pick up on signs and demonstrating this with a clip of how Heaven once tried to stop Abraham Lincoln going to the theatre that fateful night, which generates a lot of laughs. Eliza’s insane plan to get them together involves popping Sam’s Appendix (for which there’s already a button for) and hurting Laura so they both end up in A&E and is obviously a terrible one, as Craig is too aware but also too shy to comment on, so he devises a way to get Eliza out of the room and sabotages her idea. She’s understandably upset, but after a sweet and warm pep talk which proves Craig’s worth they devise another, far more complicated procedure to get the couple to meet which is not only captivating and entertaining but extremely amusing as the plot intertwines with God’s decision to kill Bill Maher, it almost goes wrong but Craig and Eliza just manage to save the day.
Miracle Workers has received a fair few negative and mixed reviews but I can’t understand why this is. The first episode was accused of being “Corny” by the New York Times and Indiewire claimed that “The story isn’t gripping enough”, which is just bizarre considering it revolves around the potential destruction of the planet, how Heaven actually works and the two Angels who have any interest in stopping the apocalypse, so I have no idea what that particularly critic wants from a tv show to keep him excited. I really hope that people ignore the less than positive reviews though as the show really is a delight, smart, quirky, funny and unique.
A fair few high concept shows flounder quickly, Son of Zorn and Better Off Ted sadly never captured the audience’s imagination but I hope Miracle Workers does well, it might not be the funniest sitcom ever created but it has a fascinating central concept and in Steve Buscemi’s God a fantastic character who’s far more memorable than the one you might know from The Bible and other religious texts. Daniel Radcliffe, Geraldine Viswanathan and Karan Soni are just as great as Buscemi, which is saying something, and given the set up it’s a show which could run and run, and I really hope it does so.