The ultimate joke of The Spoils Of Babylon has already worked on me. When I walked into my subway station a few weeks ago, I caught the poster out of the corner of my eye, thought it was some august-looking drama miniseries starring Tobey Maguire, and sighed with despair. Was it HBO, or Showtime, or Reelz this time? Who was dumping another hoary prestige project on us in a bid to boost Emmy nomination totals for the network? Not that there isn’t good work done in that genre, but more and more, the epic TV miniseries has become a depressingly formulaic affair.
Well, IFC got me, as it was trying to do, and upon closer inspection I realized The Spoils Of Babylon was clearly a spoof of everything I hated about the TV miniseries. Produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s Funny Or Die stable, and written by Saturday Night Live alums Matt Piedmont and Andrew Steele, Spoils has that great attention to detail that makes the parody seem eerily close to reality… until you’re jarred by some insane bugfuck detail, like the cheap model sets that replace any panoramic camerawork, or the fact that Lady Anne is, well, a mannequin dummy voiced by Academy Award nominee Carey Mulligan.
The biggest problem with The Spoils Of Babylon is it’s a parody of the epic miniseries drama. That is not the most fun thing to parody, because that genre requires many episodes devoted to one story, and a lot of plot. Essentially, The Spoils Of Babylon takes a while to go really crazy, and even then it just does it in fits and spurts. Luckily, there’s funny moments to be had in pretty much every scene, but the first episode feels especially draggy, which probably accounted for IFC’s decision to air the first two back-to-back.
Because after you see Devon Morehouse (Tobey Maguire) ravage the mannequin body of Lady Anne, leaving her limbless body in the bed to recover, it’s hard not to be on board with The Spoils Of Babylon. I really could care less about the in medias res opening or the mystery of why Haley Joel Osment shot Devon. I barely care about the semi-incestuous relationship between Devon and his adoptive sister Cynthia (Kristen Wiig). I’m a little intrigued by the idea of Devon’s dad Jonas (Tim Robbins) inventing a carburetor that runs 200 miles to the gallon, just because I want this to turn into a soapbox issues drama on top of everything else.
But largely, I’m in this so far for the insanity. When I was 15 or 16, I wrote a script with a friend of mine in which one of the characters was a cardboard cut-out and no one ever acknowledged it. I’m not asking for royalties, I’m just saying how funny an idea I’ve always found that to be. Lady Anne is even better because she’s presented as some paragon of beauty, and because she will always be able to out-bitch Wiig in their fight scenes because she always has the same placid expression.
That’s not the best part of The Spoils Of Babylon so far, though. Most of all, I look forward to Will Ferrell’s intro and outro of every episode as Eric Jonrosh, who wrote the “novel” the show is based on before producing a 22-hour miniseries that is allegedly being presented to us in an abridged form. Credited as an “Author-Producer-Actor-Writer-Director-Raconteur-Bon Vivant-Legend-Fabulist,” Jonrosh sees Ferrell channeling Orson Welles’ drunken Paul Masson commercials, while also looking like a mountain man/hobo with a powerfully large beard.
Jonrosh’s wild claims of status, shouted commands to the invisible crew around him, and three full glasses of wine are the biggest laughs of the first two episodes. The Spoils Of Babylon had better get crazier, but if it doesn’t, at least we have Jonrosh to look forward to every week.
- Of all the fake actor names, none is better than Lauoreighiya Samcake.
- Jonas explains the American dream to his kids. “You see these hands? This nation was built by hands like these, honest hands. Mostly African and Chinese.”
- Jonrosh and Samcake would hold up shooting “to take pleasure of each other’s flesh. In front of everyone, in fact…”
- Jonrosh won’t say wonderful. “It sounds like something a man from the circus would say! A carnival barker, if you will!”
- “Let me go there. Let me talk to this Mr. ‘Tanaka.’” “There’s no need for air quotes, that’s his real name.”