It’s hard to do broad, intelligent comedy justice. Simon Rich’s Dark Ages: Miracle Workers is such a hybrid of silliness, social commentary, and shit-shoveling jokes, and you need a willing cast to pull it off the right way. Geraldine Viswanathan returns to the Miracle Workers world as Alexandra Shitshoveler, an ambitious young woman who can’t wait to escape the idiots around her.
You can’t have Daniel Radcliffe choreographing duck ballets and Steve Buscemi debating the viability of manual feces-scooping without having a great straight man. Viswanathan gives Alexandra such a winning determination and enthusiasm that you want her to get out of Lower Murkford almost as much as she does. She shares a hilarious friendship with Lolly Adefope’s dedicated nun, Maggie, and they constantly ponder if they are living through a particularly bad moment in history. Buckle up, Alexandra. The world only gets shittier.
The women of Dark Ages get a drive that their male counterparts don’t seem to share. Rich has given us some incredibly funny young characters that we aren’t idolizing enough.
Awards Daily: I love Simon Rich’s writing.
Geraldine Viswanathan: Me, too.
AD: I love how you get to play with social commentary and you all get to be really silly and stupid. Dark Ages really allows your character and Lolly Adefope’s character to have more ambition than the male characters.
AD: What do you respond to in Simon’s writing?
GV: I feel like when I read the second season, it was a completely new world. We got new dynamics to play around with, so I was really excited. There were some parallels to the function of my character between the first and second season. She’s the audience’s way in, and she’s in this messed up, backwoods, outdated system. She’s the fresh voice of reason, and she’s responding to how broken the world is around her. She has a real deep desire to make it better and make her life better as well. Alexandra is the hero of the story, and Simon’s brain is the funnest place to be. I was so stoked.
AD: The humor reminds me of Monty Python meets The Simpsons. The show makes it very easy to laugh.
GV: Yes, exactly.
AD: Alex kind of reminds me of Eliza from Season 1 because both characters have this intelligent optimism. I loved that there was kind of a connection.
AD: I love your scenes with Lolly this year when Alex and Maggie dump on the town. What was it like to change it up this season and work with her?
GV: It was such a treat. I barely got to work with her in the first season. In Season 1, she was in God’s office and I had a lot of scenes with Daniel [Radcliffe]—which is a treat. This year, I got to do more with Lolly and Steve [Buscemi] and I loved that. They are just two very creative actors that I love so much. That friendship element gave the season more art and made it feel more modern. They are very current day in terms of friendship. In the writers’ room, we talked a lot about Daria and Jane.
AD: I love that so much.
GV: Yeah. They get to observe the world and bicker with each other, but they are in it together. (Laughs) It was really nice.
AD: You mentioned Daniel, and I loved the scenes you have together in the second half when no one knows if they are dating or not.
GV: Right. (Laughs)
AD: When talking about their relationship, Alex quite literally has the reins on it. In the final scene, as you leave to go to Paris, she is driving the wagon. Did you guys talk at all about gender roles being flipped around?
GV: Al is a lot more competent, and I think what’s so funny about their relationship is they are from polar opposite worlds. He’s been so protected—someone even feeds him soup. She comes from a very different life and a working-class family. They can still find this connection and these parallels. A lot of the comedy was meant to come out of that dynamic where she is carrying him or saving him at times.
AD: I would love to see a series where Alex teaches Chauncley about the world.
GV: Oh my god. (Laughs)
AD: In the final episode of the season, Alex is captured with a lot of the other townspeople, and she’s very surprised that everyone votes for her to be the one to live to tell the tale. Is she surprised by that validation and do you think she regrets being so crass to the other people now that she’s leaving Lower Murkford?
GV: Al’s journey throughout the season is the typical bird who wants to fly the nest. She wants to get out of her small town, and I’m sure a lot of people relate to that. I definitely did. That one-minded focus of getting out. Everything is bad and once she gets out, everything will be better. She has to come to terms with where she’s from, and where she’s from is a part of her. I feel like that’s sort of the journey people her age identify with. As soon as you leave, you understand the great things about where you’re from. She had to accept the people and the place before she could leave.
AD: I wonder if she would miss it when she’s away. You know, if she wanted to make the 10-month ride home.
AD: Like when you’re a kid and you go off to college and then you realize what you miss about home.
GV: Yeah, totally. I feel like a lot of people end up going home anyway. You have roots and family there.
AD: Since Season 2 is so drastically different than Season 1, what would you want to see in Season 3? If it were up to you?
GV: Hmm. That’s interesting. We’re had some loose passes about possibilities. It could even go in the future or we had been talking about Victorian, gothic ideas.
AD: Ohhh. I like that.
GV: Yeah. Simon really enjoys period stuff, and he just loves history. He is really good with building worlds.
AD: I would love a gothic, comedic Crimson Peak.
GV: Oh, yeah.
AD: I wanted to ask about Bad Education, because I loved it so much. This was your first time being part of a true story. What was that experience like for you?
GV: Mike Makowsky went to Rosalind High, and he was a few years younger when the scandal happened. It was amazing to have him have such a personal connection to the story. We took a road trip to Long Island and we spoke to his old teachers there. It was really cool and something I had done before. It felt really tactile and I got to be a little detective. There are a couple kids at the student newspaper that collectively broke the story, but Mike turned that into one character. I did meet the woman whose name was in the byline. We had breakfast and it was a lot of fun to hear her account of what happened.
Dark Ages: Miracle Workers is available at TBS. Watch it. Love it.