PASADENA, Cal. – So you go to the Ivy League, where your parents spend approximately a zillion dollars.
Then … well, you write comedy. Will you ever use that education?
Sort of. Just ask Simon Rich, whose “Miracle Workers: Dark Ages”(shown here with Daniel Radcliffe) is a new cable comedy.
“I did study Medieval history at Harvard,” he said. “And I live in fear that (my professors are) going to somehow get access to a television and watch this.”
How would they react? “I think I would get a very sternly worded letter from them,” he said. “It’s not the most historically accurate show.”
In olden days, for instance, a surname sometimes reflected a family’s occupations. In the show, there are people named Baker, Hunter, Farmer and (we’re using a euphemism) Eddie Poopshoveler.
That’s Steve Buscemi’s role. In status, it’s a steep fall from the first “Miracle Workers” season, when Buscemi was playing God. Literally.
“I thought it was a step up,” Buscemi insisted. In that previous season, “God was so isolated and depressed and … everybody had to kind of treat him with kid gloves …. But Eddie, he’s like a pillar of the community. People depend on him and he’s proud of what he does.”
His daughter, Alexandra Poopshoveler, doesn’t really want to follow in the family business. “I relate,” said Geraldine Viswanathan, who plays her. “My dad’s a doctor; I’m definitely not doing that.”
Radcliffe understands that notion of resisting family pressure. “I personally have very, very supportive parents, (but this theme is something) “lots of people can relate to.”
For his character, the family business is … well, being royal. Like some real-life royals, Prince Chauncley wants to do something else.
“Like a lot of privileged young men,” Rich said, he “decides on a whim that he wants to do something real.” So Lord Vexley assigns him to be Eddie Poopshoveler’s intern.
Vexley, Rich said, feels this is “a job that he can’t possibly screw up …. And Prince Chauncley somehow is so incompetent that he finds a way to dangerously screw it up.”
This is the way Rich’s neatly twisted mind functions.
In recent years, his father (Frank Rich) has been a magazine columnist and one of the producers of HBO’s “Veep” and “Succession.” When Simon was growing up, however, his dad was one of the most powerful people on Broadway, as the New York Times’ lead theater critic.
Simon went to Harvard, wrote for its Lampoon humor magazine and began writing short stories. He went on to write for “Saturday Night Live” and then to turn two of his stories into cable comedies – “Man Seeking Woman” and “Miracle Workers.”
In the first “Miracle Workers” season, a few earnest humans (including Radcliffe) tried to convince God not to destroy Earth. Now the second season uses a tad of Rich’s Ivy League education.
“The big books I read in school were ‘A Distant Mirror’ by Barbara Tuchman and then, ‘A World Lit Only By Fire,’ by William Manchester,” Rich recalled. “They’re these very dry historical books, filled with so much misery and shocking twists and horrible violence and widespread ignorance.”
It was a nasty time, Radcliffe agreed. “Whenever somebody says …, ‘I wish I had been born in a different time,’ I say, ‘No you don’t. Everything was terrible.’”
For the British – Monty Python and “Blackadder” and more – misery brings comedy. Radcliffe is British; Rich isn’t, but he savors that humor.
“A lot of my favorite writers are British,” Rich said, citing Douglas Adams, P.G. Wodhouse, David Lodge and his “favorite writer ever,” Roald Dahl. “I think that does influence us.”
It lets him find fun in misery and absurdity. It lets him put his Harvard education to use.
– “Miracle Workers: Dark Ages,” 10:30 p.m. Tuesdays, TBS, beginning Jan. 28
– Prior to that, however, the opener runs at 10:15 p.m. ET (7:15 p.m. PT) Jan. 19 on TBS and TNT, after the Screen Actors Guild awards. Also, the original series reruns Jan. 25 from 9 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. on TBS and 1-4:30 p.m. Jan 26 on TruTV.
– The Jan. 28 episode will rerun often on TBS – 11:30 p.m., Jan. 28; 5:30 p.m., Jan. 29; 7 and 11:30 p.m., Jan. 30; 9:30 a.m., Feb. 1.