God needed to kill somebody.
In the universe of Miracle Workers, that is the logical explanation for the TBS comedy’s best joke.
“13 Days,” the episode of the Daniel Radcliffe-starring series that aired Tuesday night, finds the series’ petulant man-child God, played by Steve Buscemi, angry over being the target of Bill Maher’s jokes.
“Religion: Stupid, dangerous, pointless, just [bleeps] everything up,” Maher says on the TV that Buscemi’s God can’t stop watching. Turns out God is not a fan of comedy when he is the punchline. “What’s that thing where we can…you know…” he asks his assistant, Sanjay (Karan Soni), who responds: “Kill him?”
He has Sanjay orchestrate the death, which he plans as a heart attack. But God wants something more dramatic. He wants to explode Bill Maher’s penis instead.
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Miracle Workers envisions Heaven as ineptly run corporate office, and God’s hit on Bill Maher sends Sanjay to the Department of Genitals. Because their duties are typically puberty-related, they don’t know how to go about the task at hand and mistakenly make it bigger.
God is furious over news coverage of what’s being perceived as a surprise blessing: Bill Maher’s massive dong. “God is as fake as my dick is huge,” Maher says when reached for comment. It turns out that his penis became too beautiful as it got larger, and the workers in the Department of Genitals couldn’t bring themselves to destroy it. “This isn’t the Department of Anuses. We have integrity.”
Sanjay must then take the matter into his own hands, employing the 50,000 pumps on the Pump-o-Tron it takes to explode Maher’s penis himself. Later in the episode, it is revealed that Maher died.
It might seem like one big, elaborate dick joke on face value, but the Maher gag carries more meaning than that. When we chatted with series creator Simon Rich about it, he explained how it was necessary to both give viewers a sense of the juvenile pettiness of God in the series, who is fashioned in the vein of the terrible boss we’ve all had the displeasure of working for, as well as setting up the stakes on which the show’s entire premise is built.
“God is deeply insecure,” Rich says. “He’s somebody who pretends not to care what other people think about him, but of course he is obsessed with what other people think about him. So we wanted to show early on in the season that God is capable of actual destruction. It was important for us to prove that the gun is loaded.”
In last week’s series premiere, God decides that he is bored of Earth and tired of dealing with its constant bad news: Global warming, wars, civil unrest. So he decides that he’s going to destroy the planet, unless two angels (Radcliffe and Geraldine Viswanathan) can answer an impossible prayer. To prove God is serious about the matter, Rich needed to show him killing someone, and not thinking twice.
“Narratively, we needed for him to commit murder pretty early in the season so that audiences would know, yeah, that doomsday device is real,” he says. “This is a God like the Old Testament God, who is capable of wiping people out on purpose.”
In the writers room, the question then became: Who does God kill? It made sense that this version of God would kill someone who makes fun of him and hurts his ego.
“We thought of all the famous atheists in pop culture,” Rich says, though the obvious choice was Maher.
As for death by penis explosion? That’s all important character work. Seriously.
“God’s a pretty childish figure [in the show],” Rich says. “He’s basically at the intelligence level of a six-year-old. He’s illiterate. He’s childish. He should definitely not be CEO of this company.”
If the idea of Miracle Workers is that God is the head of Heaven, Inc., and working for the company is miserable, then the CEO, who happens to be the Lord Almighty, telling his assistant, who happens to be an angel, to kill Bill Maher by exploding his penis helps establish the rules of the fictional world.
“Everything on this show is basically ‘How do we make this company worse?’” Rich says. You do that by spending a half hour making the audience think about Bill Maher’s penis.