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A History of Daniel Radcliffe Being Unexpectedly Great at Comedy

The Miracle Workers star has come a long way since Harry Potter.
  • Daniel Radcliffe in Miracle Workers. (TBS)
    Daniel Radcliffe in Miracle Workers. (TBS)

    Look, it's not like the Harry Potter movies were a series of Chekhov adaptations. The adventures of Harry and his pals as they explored the wizarding world and battled Lord Voldemort certainly grew more ominous as the series went on, but up until the very end there was still a lightness that poked through, owing to the series' origins as top-flight young-adult fare. But nothing in the Potter films suggested young Daniel Radcliffe would grow up to become an on-again, off-again comedic star and scene-stealer.

    This week, with TBS's Miracle Workers returning for a second season, Racliffe is once again showing off his comedic chops as the show pivots to a story set in the middle ages.

    So what inspired the producers of Miracle Workers to put Daniel Radcliffe front and center in their quirky comedy? This has been in the works for a while, actually. Radcliffe's post-Potter career has taken him to genres like horror (The Woman in Black) and against-type casting (playing Allen Ginsberg in Kill Your Darlings) in order to free him from The Boy Who Lived. But it's been in small indie comedies that he's found his footing most assuredly.

    Extras (2006)

    This actually happened in between Potter movies, but it's the best early ndication of the kind of comedic talent that Radcliffe had in store. Ricky Gervais's follow-up to The Office saw Radcliffe playing a randy, nightmare version of himself on the set of a film where he plays a Boy Scout, Radcliffe instead bums cigarettes, clumsily hits on Maggie, and manages to slingshot an unfurled condom into Dame Diana Rigg. Every second of it is a scream.

    What If?

    Talk about a time capsule that deserves to be re-opened. Released outside of America as The "F" Word ("friendship"; the word is "friendship"), this romantic comedy played film festivals in 2013 before waiting a whole year to open in North America. Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan star as that tried and true rom-com archetype: the guy and girl who are great as friends, only circumstance (she has a boyfriend) and their own fears keep them from going for it, despite the fact that everybody in their lives seems to want them to. In this case, the people in their lives are played by Adam Driver (then already notable for Girls) and a barely known Mackenzie Davis, and the pair totally steal the show. Radcliffe plays an entirely credible romantic-comedy hero, and that's nothing to sniff at.

    Swiss Army Man

    This was a most impressive feat for Radcliffe, who played the titular Swiss Army Man — a dead body washed ashore and found by a shipwrecked Paul Dano, who then uses the body as an all-purpose survival tool (he's a raft! He's a canon! He's a slingshot!). He's also … perhaps a friend? The magical realism at work in this movie is elastic as hell, and the rules of the film keep changing, which would normally be annoying (and plenty of people found this film to be exactly that), but it also strangely works. Radcliffe's character never "speaks," exactly, but the wide range of contortions and hilarious facial expressions he employs keep this fantasy alive.

    Miracle Workers

    Season 1 of the TBS comedy saw Radcliffe, Steve Buscemi and Blockers star Geraldine Viswanathan team up as a pair of angels looking to save humanity from God's benign indifference. In the second season, Radcliffe, Buscemi and Viswanathan are joined by guest stars Angela Kinsey, Margaret Cho, and Tituss Burgess.

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    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Miracle Workers, TBS, Extras, Adam Driver, Daniel Radcliffe