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Miracle Workers: Dark Ages Review: An Easier Comedy About Harder Times

Simon Rich is going medieval on youth

Tim Surette

This is a bit weird, people. TBS's comedy Miracle Workers was always meant to be an anthology series, the network said that much when it was announced, but it still seems odd that after its first season -- in which Steve Buscemi played God and Daniel Radcliffe played an angel who answered humans' prayers with the help of another employee of heaven -- the series is picking up everything and starting over in the Middle Ages in Season 2. Even more confusing, it's still holding onto the name Miracle Workers, which was apt for Season 1 but unrelated in Season 2 as there isn't a miracle in sight. Simply adding the suffix Miracle Workers: Dark Ages isn't enough to separate it in our minds from Season 1.

Anthologies tend to have some connective tissue beyond the obvious -- themes and moods, mostly -- but the only things linking the two seasons of Miracle Workers are the returning cast and that they're both based on stories by creator Simon Rich; Season 2 stems from his short story "Revolution." So if you were a fan of Season 1, which had its moments but wasn't necessary viewing, you're basically starting over in Season 2. It feels like an entirely new show. Confusing!

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This time around, Radcliffe plays Prince Chauncley, a Dutch Boy-wig-wearing heir to the throne who is nothing like his bloodthirsty father and king. Buscemi is knocked down many a peg, going from the creator of everything to Ed Shitshoveler, who, like most of the commoners in this show, is named after his job, and Geraldine Viswanathan plays his daughter, Alexandra, an ambitious peasant who longs to do more than be an evacuator of evacuations. Alexandra's desire to be more than a doodoo-discarder appears to be Dark Ages' main sticking point, reiterating what young people have yelled at their overbearing parents for centuries: "I'M NOT YOU, DAD!"

Taking universal problems and layering them on top of outrageous situations is what Rich does best, but Dark Ages takes it down about 20 percent. In Season 1, Rich looked at destiny through an angel yanking cosmic strings to make a young, shy Earthly couple fall for each other, pulling the curtain back on fate and true love. In Rich's previous series Man Seeking Woman -- his best work -- he transformed love and dating into fantastical metaphor, blowing up the horrific neuroses of relationships into the bizarre vignettes they deserved.

Daniel Radcliffe and Karan Soni, Miracle Workers: Dark Ages


Dark Ages is Rich's most accessible TV work to date (though Rich's bar for accessible is higher than most). In the first three episodes of the season (note: TBS released three more episode for review after this review was written), he's simply placing some issues of youth -- coming out of their parents' shadows, finding satisfying employment that matters to them, dealing with catty bitches -- into medieval times, making Dark Ages a lot easier to warm up to from the get-go. It's a sitcom set in the Middle Ages, basically. While it speaks to timeless truths (I doubt every blacksmith's son was eager to pound out steel on an anvil), it doesn't breach the profound the way Man Seeking Woman did or Miracle Workers occasionally attempted to. That's not a knock, but it makes Dark Ages a much breezier comedy than what he's done before.

But the kooky satire is still there. For example, when Ed Shitshoveler's job is threatened by a new invention, a hole in the ground, the man who created the idea comes out as a Steve Jobs of the 12th century, upselling what is essentially a new place to put your crap. When Alexandra goes to school, she's taught the three simple facts scientists know at the time in 10 seconds and given a worthless diploma. In fact, most of the humor in the show is all about how stupid people were back then and how awful it must have been to live in those times compared to what we deal with today. Not going to lie, it works.

Miracle Workers: Dark Ages isn't trying to say too much this season, at least in the early episodes. But it doesn't appear to want to try to; it's happy poking goofy fun at these dark times in history. As the original and still best mocker of these times once said, "It is a silly place."

TV Guide Rating: 3/5

Miracle Workers: Dark Ages premieres Tuesday, Jan. 28 at 10:30/9:30c on TBS.