When pop culture turns God into a sad sack, it’s hard not to interpret some anti-faith aggression coming from the screen, But TBS’ Miracle Workers positions its burnout rendition of the Creator as more of a goofy contextual set-up than an out-and-out attack on Christianity. If you call yourself a believer, you can rip through eight episodes of this show without once feeling maligned or targeted, and that’s a bit of a miracle in itself. For a comedy about heaven, Miracle Workers is a lot less interested in religious thought than expected, and that proves to be a great thing for the show.
At this point, you’d hope we as a culture have moved past the “God, but He sucks” premise. It’s tiresome. The “edgy” take on God as incompetent, washed up, petty, duplicitous or bullying is so commonplace now that it’s lost its bite. The Simpsons had God eating KFC (an admittedly inspired joke) back in 1989, for goodness’ sake. We haven’t evolved the joke since?
For people of faith, it’s tough to weather these beleaguered portrayals of God because the inherent cynicism of these interpretations diminishes the hope that’s implicit to faith in the first place. If faith is trust in things unseen, but the object of that faith—God—is just a petulant man-child than what’s faith worth at all? Movies and TV might have fun with these God characters but the “truth” beneath the jokes feels invalidating after prolonged exposure. The joke stretches from God Himself to everyone who trusts in Him. It can be discouraging and otherizing.
So for Miracle Workers to dodge this dynamic is impressive. Its God is certainly unworthy of worship, but the show doesn’t exploit the effigy to devalue the hope people have in higher powers. That’s because Miracle Workers uses heaven like The Office uses Dunder Mifflin or Brooklyn Nine-Nine uses the 99th precinct: a backdrop for workplace high jinks. Just as The Office and Nine-Nine didn’t set out to take down the paper industry or local law enforcement, Miracle Workers isn’t here to satirize heaven. This is a workplace sitcom. The jokes come from the people, not the setting.
The premise of Miracle Workers might not convince you of this point, but go with it: God wants to blow up the earth and start over on humanity (He’s a little frustrated with how we’re handling things down here), but two low-level angels convince Him to save the planet if they can use miracles to make two people fall in love.
Sure, not a great look for God on paper, but in practice it’s not different than your typical “the boss is going to sell the company unless the scrappy new employee lands a game-changing client” set-up. Miracle Workers is more interested in those character dynamics than skewering faith topics anyway. Its heavenly setting really is just window dressing, and the show puts the cast front and center. That makes it more of a traditional sitcom than a satire.
Alongside comedy ensembles like those on Parks and Recreation or Cheers, the crew on Miracle Workers strikes some more eclectic notes. Daniel Radcliffe has top billing here as the angel who runs heaven’s Answered Prayers Department, and he’s a long way from Hogwarts, channeling every ounce of the wackiness he’s cultivated since his turn as Harry Potter. Miracle Workers has Radcliffe throw tantrums over lost gloves, talk to mops, swap minds with a bumblebee and squirt mustard packets into his mouth “as a treat.” It’s amazing. He’s bonkers. You’re going to love him.
Radcliffe’s joined by a winning Geraldine Viswanathan (also terrific in last year’s Blockers) as a rookie angel and Deadpool’s Karan Sopi as an executive angel reporting to God. As for the Big Man Himself, Miracle Workers employs a weary, wired, possibly baked Steve Buscemi, who is so off-kilter here it would be a miscast if the show around him wasn’t so weird, too. All together, the cast of Miracle Workers feels entirely unlikely but somehow totally sensical. You’re going to love all these characters and you’re going to have no idea why. Just let it happen.
That endearment is ultimately how Miracle Workers can duck accusations of being anti-faith or anti-God, but besides, there’s little here you could attach to any one religion. God and heaven here are decidedly not in the Christian tradition (the show makes it a point to say people reach heaven “at random” and explains there are other gods ruling over other, non-Earth planets). In explaining how this God and this heaven operate, Miracle Workers is world-building rather than turning a mirror toward anything in real life.
As the show focuses instead on redeeming its oddball collection of characters, that spiritual vagueness allows the story beats to feel rewarding no matter what faith background you bring to the show. Miracle Workers follows the same patterns of redemption as most great stories. Radcliffe and Viswanathan’s angelic beings undergo some valuable changes, but so does Steve Buscemi’s God. That’s not because the show thinks God or the angels need to change, but because the show believes watching people change can be instructive for the viewers.
The biggest payoffs of Parks and Rec and The Office came in the final moments of each series when the characters were given space to reflect on the settings that had facilitated their changing lives—not just the Pawnee Parks Department and Dunder Mifflin, but the people who worked there, too. Miracle Workers is headed in the same direction. At the end of the day, this is a show about a bunch of pencil pushers struggling to manage their goofball boss. The natural beats of that dynamic orients Miracle Workers’ characters toward optimism and growth.
You’re not expected to find hope in this show’s version of the afterlife, but rather its character arcs. Everyone on Miracle Workers is a bit off-base, but everyone is also trying their best to make things around them a little better. Maybe in that sense, it really is otherworldly.
Tyler Daswick is a senior writer at Relevant. Follow him on Twitter @tylerdaswick.