Type keyword(s) to search


It Might Be the End Times for Comedy on Max, But at Least We Still Have Miracle Workers

In its fourth season, the anthology comedy keeps hope alive once more.
  • Geraldine Viswanathan and Daniel Radcliffe in Miracle Workers: End Times (Photo: WarnerMedia)
    Geraldine Viswanathan and Daniel Radcliffe in Miracle Workers: End Times (Photo: WarnerMedia)

    Warner Bros. Discovery’s culling of its programming has left many victims in its wake, across all genres and formats. But it feels as though comedies have been hit the hardest, possibly because the overall number of original comedies seems to have dwindled in recent years, replaced with nostalgia grabs and IP extensions, trading laughter for spectacle and rapid-fire “references.” Max in particular has been bleeding half-hour series; in 2022 alone, the streamer canceled Made for Love, The Gordita Chronicles, and Love Life. February 2023 saw the precipitous end of South Side, one of the best comedies and Chicago shows of the last decade. And just last month, The Other Two bid farewell to the platform, willingly or not.

    All is not lost — Hacks, The Sex Lives of College Girls, and Our Flag Means Death have been renewed (so has Velma, though that development doesn’t provide the same sense of relief). And, though it’s officially a TBS show that can be streamed on Max, Miracle Workers is back tonight with a fourth season of absurdist and big-hearted humor. The Season 4 premiere may have been pushed back by six months, but Simon Rich’s comedic anthology still returns at a most opportune time. Now subtitled End Times, Miracle Workers opens on a desolate wasteland that could represent what the TV landscape will look like in another month or so, unless the AMPTP decides to do right by the Writers Guild, just as much as a post-apocalyptic Earth.

    Set in the year 2063, 40 years after a “boom” that decimated the population and made the planet largely uninhabitable, End Times nonetheless shares the optimism of its predecessors. Against all odds and cannibalistic factions, Sid (an endlessly game Daniel Radcliffe) and Freya Exaltada (Geraldine Viswanathan, giving Charlize Theron a run for her money) have fallen in love. He’s an “underprivileged wastelander,” a loner with few social skills; she’s a fearsome warlord who receives tribute from outposts across what remains of civilization. They start a life together in the suburban Boomtown, complete with a dog named Scraps, who’s actually a human played by Jon Bass, the low-key MVP of the season.

    Throw in Steve Buscemi as Morris Rubinstein, big-shot businessman and “literal garbage person,” and Karan Soni as TI-90, a Gigolo Joe lookalike, and you’ve got all of the Miracle Workers repertory players in place, ready once more to explore morality, empathy, and how to keep hope alive in even the most trying of circumstances. It might be easy to miss the idealism that runs through the series, especially as it’s jumped between various settings and historical periods, at one point making extensive use of scatalogical humor. When the show, based on Rich’s 2012 novel What in God’s Name?, premiered in 2019, its philosophical questions and vision of a hilariously bureaucratic Heaven were overshadowed by Mike Schur’s The Good Place.

    True to its name, Rich’s anthology comedy found a way to make it work, even in a crowded TV landscape that has, in the years since the show’s premiere on TBS, both expanded and contracted. The cast, led by Radcliffe and Viswanathan, has handled the changes in settings and characters with aplomb, always managing to retain a unique essence. Sid is the latest in a line of dreamers played by Radcliffe, including Season 1’s Craig, a lonely bog boy turned put-upon angel who takes on God; Prince Chauncley, who traded a castle of riches for companionship in Season 2; and Ezekiel, the Oregon Trail’s repressed reverend who realized heaven is a place on earth. Viswanathan has come to embody the “plucky protagonist” in her time on the show, but she’s also poignantly captured the difficulties of being an outlier, which are only compounded when you’re a woman of color. She reaches her final form in Freya Exaltada, the most extreme version of a hypercompetent woman trying to balance her work and personal lives.

    Soni put a fresh spin on the journey from company man to free thinker in the first three seasons, and now he gets to relish in being a latex-covered agent of chaos in End Times. Buscemi, clad in leisure suits and leather vests, has represented entrenched ideas or systems of power in the show: God in Season 1; a dad who thinks his daughter should be in the family business in Dark Ages; a dad who doesn’t think his daughter should be in the family business in Oregon Trail. As Morris the junkman in Season 4, he’s responsible, in a sense, for maintaining relics of the past.

    Dan Mirk and Robert Padnick, who have been co-showrunners since Oregon Trail, have also established thematic cohesion among the show’s four seasons. Miracle Workers may be an anthology, but every season has mused on religion, tradition, aspiration, and having faith — in people rather than institutions. The show’s timeline has also been primarily linear, despite a start in the afterlife, moving from the Middle Ages to the 1840s, and now, the end of the world. Along with great visual gags and throwaway lines, compassion courses through this show, whether it’s a low-level angel showing mercy to the Almighty, people working together to get through the so-called “Dark Ages,” or finding salvation in each other on the Oregon Trail.

    But the most inspired source of continuity, not to mention narrative, can be found in Radcliffe and Viswanathan’s characters. Their chemistry, which can turn from friendly to sexual on a dime, has secretly fueled a series-long, slow-burn romance. Eliza and Craig may have ended Season 1 as friends, but Chauncley and Al were on the verge of much more when they departed Season 2 with a wagon, which carried over to the Oregon Trail in Season 3, where Prue and Zeke overcame obstacles, like a hedonistic husband (Bass), to pledge their love. In Season 4, these lovers are now spouses facing their first year of marriage in a hostile world, albeit one where most people come to see things from each other’s points of view.

    End Times is just as laugh-out-loud funny as previous seasons, and somehow even raunchier, getting a surprising amount of mileage out of sex with inanimate objects. It flies through references to post-apocalyptic movies like Mad Max: Fury Road, Planet of the Apes, and even Demolition Man, suburban horror movies like The Stepford Wives, and sci-fi like A.I. and The Matrix. But unlike an anthology like The Afterparty, in which the genre parody is the point, these homages are in service of an overarching narrative: a love story between two people who manage to find each other time and again. In that sense, End Times reaches the heights of Rich’s Man Seeking Woman, which also managed to turn the very intimate experience of falling in love into an absurdist epic.

    There’s no telling what’s in store for Sid and Freya (only three screeners were screened for critics), or Miracle Workers, or soulful yet outlandish comedies in general as cancellation continues to be the order of the day. But if we've learned anything from the show, it's to hold out hope. 

    Miracle Workers: End Times airs Mondays at 10 PM ET on TBS and streams on Max. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Danette Chavez is the Editor-in-Chief of Primetimer and its biggest fan of puns.

    TOPICS: Miracle Workers: End Times, Max, TBS, Daniel Radcliffe, Dan Mirk, Geraldine Viswanathan, Karan Soni, Robert Padnick, Steve Buscemi