Originally posted by RODNEY HOfirstname.lastname@example.org on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
What if God had largely given up on Earth?
Steve Buscemi (“Boardwalk Empire,” “Fargo”) plays God as supremely disengaged in TBS’s broad, imaginative comedy “Miracle Workers,” shot largely in a mostly abandoned optic fiber factory in Norcross. The seven-episode limited series debuts Tuesday at 10:30 p.m.
Given God’s blasé attitude, it’s not surprising parts of Heaven Inc. feel like a dilapidated version of Dunder-Mifflin from “The Office.” (To pay homage to that show, creator Simon Rich cast “The Office” alum Angela Kinsey as an eye-rolling mid-level HR person.)
“A lot of the technology is obsolete,” Rich said. “It’s vastly inefficient, poorly designed, mismanaged and physically falling apart.”
The various departments are ridiculously specific: “The Department of Body Odors,” “Department of Volcanic Safety,” “Department of Genitals.”
The Department of Answered Prayers, you’d think, would be populated by hundreds of employees. But instead, it’s run by a single person: Daniel Radcliffe’s socially awkward angel Craig. He thinks small, answering three, maybe four, modest prayers a day, typically of the “lost key” variety.
“He’s very cautious,” Radcliffe said during a break in filming in February, 2018. “He’s someone who has a fear of failure so why even try?”
But when Eliza (played with sweet naiveté by Geraldine Viswanathan) arrives in his department ready to make a big difference, Craig’s world is turned upside down.
Unfortunately, her viewpoint clashes with Buscemi’s God, who is not remotely all knowing.
“I’m used to playing smart characters,” said Buscemi in an on-set interview. “He’s very human. He makes mistakes. If Heaven is a corporation, the guy at the top is distracted, disinterested. I think he thought it would be fun to have his own planet but it’s a lot harder than it looks. He’s trying to keep his head above water. He’s faking it a lot.”
As a result, Buscemi’s God is child-like incompetent and needs his unhappy right-hand man Sanjay (Karan Soni) to help him with the most menial tasks, such as working a microwave.
Buschemi’s God is someone who wants comic Bill Maher dead not because he makes jokes questioning the existence of God but because he’s simply “not funny.” (God’s punishment of choice goes in a direction the Farrelly brothers would appreciate.)
And Buscemi’s God treats humans without much empathy.
He makes a rash bet with Eliza. If she can fulfill an “impossible” prayer within two weeks, he’ll keep Earth around. If she loses, he’ll destroy Earth but also force her to eat a worm in front of everyone and pretend to enjoy it. (This would give God a chance to move on to another project: a fusion restaurant.)
Eliza opts to pick an “impossible” prayer that doesn’t involve solving world hunger or ending war. Instead, she and Craig try to get two socially inept 24 year olds to kiss within two weeks.
Rich said relationships are one of the few areas where humans have true agency and some level of control. So while Eliza thinks getting these two together would be easy, it’s not.
“I picture this world as an animated Pixar movie,” said Radcliffe, referencing creator Rich’s former employer. “There’s an intricacy and a playfulness to this world where you just want to spend time in it and see how it works.”
While the comedy is mostly light and sweet, Rich plays around with the butterfly effect. As Eliza and Craig try to hook this pair up, they generate all sorts of unintended worldwide havoc. But they barely react to any of that human suffering as they focus on the task at hand.
Radcliffe said it’s a result of angels being in heaven for so long, they have become desensitized to actual human suffering.
And Atlanta viewers might recognize the human TV newscaster who provides the angels with commentary on their latest horrible catastrophe: CBS46 anchor Mike Dunston. “He was by far the best” among those who auditioned, including professional actors, Rich said.
Radcliffe was drawn to the project because of Rich’s reputation as a writer, producer and auteur. “Craig functions as an avatar of Simon himself,” Radcliffe said. “Simon and I are quite similar people. I’m like a dumb version of Simon.”
Rich, who considers himself a much less handsome version of Daniel, was tickled that Radcliffe was willing to work with him on “Miracle Workers.”
“He’s a brilliant guy,” Rich gushed. “He’s extremely hard working and just a wonderful leader on set. We got to use him in different ways the audience hasn’t necessarily seen him before.”
The Heaven Inc. set up is largely inspired by the OFS fiber optics plant itself. The building “Miracle Workers” used is largely empty save for abandoned equipment and “Danger: acid” signs.
“One of the main reasons we’re in Georgia is I fell in love with this specific location,” Rich said. “It completely drove the direction of the writing... It’s gigantic. It’s a little bit dangerous. It’s unpredictable, inconsistent, asymmetrical.”
He added: “Part of the deal is we would be allowed to use any garbage lying around. It was creatively integral to our show.”
Rich said Heaven Inc. is by no means an allegory of any specific institution such as the White House. At the same time, “we don’t lean into it but we don’t lean away from it,” he said.
And while Rich creates an imaginative world, he won’t dwell in it for long. This series is a mere seven episodes. If the show returns next season, it will be a different scenario, like “True Detective” or “American Horror Story.”
But the tone and sensibility will remain the same, Rich said. “We’ll come up with some other big absurdist concept.”
“Miracle Workers,” 10:30 p.m. Tuesdays, starting February 12 on TBS
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