Coming to TBS this month is the new heaven-set workplace comedy Miracle Workers, based on creator and showrunner Simon Rich’s book, “What in God’s Name.” The seven-episode limited series turns the perception of heaven on its head while also making the case that humans are worth saving, and while the angels might get the lion’s share of the screen time, a pair of mortals down on Earth have a big part to play in it all.
Miracle Workers stars Daniel Radcliffe as Craig, a low-level angel responsible for handling all of humanity’s prayers. Steve Buscemi plays Craig’s boss, God, who has pretty much checked out to focus on petty hobbies. To prevent Earth’s destruction, Craig and fellow angel Eliza (Geraldine Viswanathan) must answer a seemingly impossible prayer: help two humans, Laura and Sam (played by Sasha Compere and Jon Bass), fall in love.
During a visit to the Atlanta-area set with a small group of journalists, I had a chance to chat with Compere and Bass about Miracle Workers, how much of the overall story their characters get to experience, and whether they’re aware of any celestial interference over the course of the story. Their responses follow below, with Bass first, followed by a separate chat with Compere.
Also starring Karan Soni, Miracle Workers also features guest stars Tituss Burgess, Margaret Cho, Angela Kinsey, Tim Meadows, John Reynolds, Lolly Adefope and Chris Parnell appearing throughout the season. Look for Miracle Workers on TBS starting February 12th!
What is the show about for you and what does your character see?
Jon Bass: What I see is very little. For me it’s just a regular two weeks in the life of Sam, who works at The Container Store, loves his Nana, and pretty much just is living his life. It’s almost as if there are two different movies going on.
There’s the Heaven movie, which is high octane, trying to save the world, everyone’s trying to get everything to work perfectly while everything is going terribly. And then my world which is trying to get a sheet onto a bed, and that’s like a big day for me.
It’s completely different. It’s almost like a mumble oracle of just a guy who is strictly living his life as if nothing in the world is ever going to … you know, he’s not thinking that the end of the world is imminent.
If we were to watch just your story, without all the weird, surreal stuff, what would that story look like for us? Would it just be very mundane, or is there still stuff that drives sort of the human story?
Bass: It would be pretty mundane. It would be pretty much two people meeting a couple times and liking each other. You’re sort of in this world of utter normalcy. Sam and Laura are both very normal and that cannot piss off the angels more. I’m so shy. I can barely talk to Laura. You know that thing when you like a girl but you don’t know if she likes you? That’s the story. It’s a girl who doesn’t know if a guy likes her and a guy who doesn’t know if the girl likes him.
It would be like watching that. I think the audience, if it was just our side of the story, the audience would be sort of like, “What’s wrong with these two people?” It’s really fun. I haven’t watched one take of Heaven.
Bass: I read the scripts. I try to stay as far away from Heaven as possible because there’s no reason to have any semblance of what’s going on with it.
Your scenes are done now, right?
Bass: I’ve got one more scene. I have to eat a gyro. That can sort of explain what Sam and Laura are doing on Earth. We’re eating food. We go to a couple parties together. Things get a little out of control. Like, we’re at a party and someone gets lit on fire, and we’re like, “That was weird.” But, that’s as far as it goes. It’s not like we’re assuming that Heaven is interfering and angels are watching our every move.
You’re not witnessing miracles and that sort of thing?
Bass: No. No, no, no. We don’t witness miracles. We make one prayer at the Sub One saying, “I really like this girl, please make this happen,” and then we leave it up to the angels to make it happen.
So, you guys are more of a grounding element for the higher concept?
Bass: Yes. Yeah. That’s a perfect way of putting it. We’re extremely grounded. Every time I try and do something a little high volume, every single one of my directors on this show has said, “Jon, just bring it down.” It’s great. It’s been so much fun. It’s been so much fun just being the crux to these angels who want nothing more than us to kiss to save the world.
Just to clarify, have you met prior to the angels trying to coordinate it? Or you already had met and are trying to feel each other out and they try to help with it along the way?
Bass: Yeah, yeah. The first shot of episode one is us at a party and we are talking to each other and then we say goodnight and we both make a prayer to a higher being saying, “I really like this person. Please make this happen.”
From then on, it’s up to Heaven to decide if we’re going to be together. I don’t know how much the angels told you about miracles, but getting two people to kiss is an extremely hard miracle. Miracles are extremely difficult. A big day for getting a miracle to be done is someone finding their keys. So, to get two people to kiss is like next level.
Bass: Thankfully, yes. Thankfully, it’s a mutual prayer and we’re just hoping that it happens and then they facilitate us running into each other a couple times.
Do you guys ever get into the idea of like free will versus destiny?
Bass: We talk a little bit about if we ever feel like we have control over our lives, but it doesn’t really affect us in a way of like getting into a huge speech about it. You know? It’s more just like, do we ever feel like we have control our lives?
I think that the takeaway for, I won’t speak for Sasha, but I think the takeaway for Sam, for my character, is that … and I think that the takeaway of the whole series for the Earthlings, for the Earthbound part of it, is that no matter what people try to interfere, love will find a way in a very saccharine, sweet version. This show is not saccharine. It has moments of saccharine and sweetness. It is not a saccharine and sweet show.
What was the meet-cute like?
Bass: Oh, extremely awkward. Yeah, it’s an extremely awkward meet-cute where we talk about badminton for a couple minutes and we talk about a bathroom line. Sam, much like me in real life, is not very good at reading signs. It’s very much an awkward … pretty much every single one of our interactions is awkward, which is just driving the angels more and more insane.
You guys are the more down-to-Earth side of the show, but is it like a complete dichotomy or do you guys get any kind of more fanciful moments?
Bass: I don’t want to ruin the fanciful moments because they’re so great, but, yeah, we get some really … I mean, the ultimate episode, some crazy stuff happens and we get to have this sort of amazing, wonderful moment together. Yet, even though it’s very grounded and it’s pretty much just a day in the life, or about two weeks in the life of these two people, we are being interfered by a higher power and they definitely make some things happen that make it a little odd for us.