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Thanks to 'Miracle Workers,' Another Heavenly Sitcom Has Arrived
February 12, 2019  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment

The afterlife, it turns out, is a place where they make cool sitcoms.

Who knew?

Following another delightful season of NBC’s The Good Place, TBS rolls out Miracle Workers, wherein Steve Buscemi (top) plays a God who’s pretty much had it with the seemingly insoluble chaos on Earth.

Miracle Workers debuts at 10:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, and you should probably watch it fast, because Buscemi’s God establishes the show’s premise by announcing that in two weeks he may just blow the whole thing up.

Once that tiresome failed Earth experiment is over, God excitedly explains to his loyal assistant Sanjay (Karan Soni, right), he can concentrate on his next project, which is opening a restaurant that operates on the same principle as a Lazy Susan.

The only things that can prevent the annihilation of Earth, it turns out, are two low-level employees of Heaven: Craig (Daniel Radcliffe, above) and Eliza (Geraldine Viswanathan, above), who work in the Answered Prayers division.

Craig, who has been working there alone for several thousand years, has accepted that his role is not to fix any big problems, like climate change or genocide, but to concentrate on what he can accomplish, like helping a woman find her lost car keys.

When the young, idealistic Eliza joins him, eager to tackle the big stuff and make Earth better, Craig explains that the division hears maybe two billion prayers a day and can, on a good day, answer three or four.

Still, Eliza is young and idealistic, so she barges into God’s chamber and makes a bet with Him. God loves bets. If she can answer one prayer officially deemed “impossible,” God will spare Earth. If she can’t, Earth will be vaporized on schedule and Eliza will face a further penalty that God outlines in delighted detail.

Craig agrees to help Eliza try to beat God’s two-week deadline. The prayer they select doesn’t seem that hard, except, as God notes, it’s really the hardest problem of all.

As a sitcom premise, this one doesn’t have a lot of precedent in previous afterlife shows. Miracle Workers, like The Good Place, relies less on its plotline than on its characters and a glorious buffet of one-liners and sight gags about how Heaven would look under this particular God.

Buscemi’s God is not a bad guy. He’s not uncaring. He’s just tired of the litany of ways in which humans seem to have screwed up this planet He created. He watches a bank of TV monitors, all talking about tsunamis and rioting and murder and, well, you know, all the stuff that television talks about, and he reaches the not illogical conclusion that there isn’t much worth saving.

Heaven itself, meanwhile, is run like a megacorporation. The HR department explains to employees that if they keep their heads down and do an honest job for 80,000 years, they can retire with enough benefits to buy a nice condo.

When Heaven faces budget cuts, something may have to go extinct on Earth because there is no longer the funding to support it. It seems cruel, but that’s the way the corporate world works.

Buscemi plays God as the kind of guy who was deeply into the culture of the 1960s, then got bored and disillusioned when things didn’t turn out as groovy as everyone was sure they would.

The role reminds us that Buscemi is a terrific comic actor, and he’s surrounded by a strong cast that knows how to play an absurd situation with straight faces.

Miracle Workers doesn’t have the best time slot ever, but since most people watch on their own time anyway these days, they just need to set their recording devices or their phone alerts.

Like The Good Place, this is a good show.

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Sean Dougherty
There are actually two obvious precedents.The plot is very similar to the legendary Jack Benny flop "The Horn Blows at Midnight." It also borrows heavily from "Good Omens" by Terry Prachett and Neil Gaiman, which I believe was recently developed as a TV series. For the record, count me in the chorus of folks who think "Horn" was actually a good movie that just didn't find it's audience and Benny found it funny to run it down as a gag on his program for decades afterward so it's remembered as a disaster. It's actually worth watching if you come across it.
Feb 12, 2019   |  Reply
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