Meeting today’s TV Critics Association in Pasadena, the cast of IFC’s new miniseries spoof, The Spoils of Babylon, seemed both apologetic and triumphant. Tragically triumphant?
Tobey Maguire told the critics: “For those of you who will watch this, I’m sorry and you’re welcome.”
Kristen Wiig added: “It’s always fun to do something overly dramatic and not worry if you’re doing a good job acting.”
A Funny or Die production for IFC written/created by Matt Piedmont and Andrew Steele, directed by Piedmont and executive produced by the duo with Will Ferrell, Adam McKay and Nate Young, The Spoils of Babylon debuts tonight with back-to-back episodes. There are six in all. The first two are, well, a slow burn.
Will Ferrell appears as author Eric Jonrosh channeling Orson Welles to bookend each episode with his own retelling of the epic book he’d written, giving us a look back from now(ish) to the supposed 1979 miniseries production, which itself was set in the 1940s. Just go with it. It’s all farce upon parody upon satire. Nothing is real. Except for the theme song, which really is sung by Steve Lawrence!
This is the opening montage and theme, which plays after some fake studio title credits and Ferrell’s Wellesian Jonrosh slosh talk. Roll it.
So there you have it. The real cast includes Jessica Alba, Will Ferrell, Jellybean Howie, Val Kilmer, Tobey Maguire, Haley Joel Osment, Tim Robbins, Michael Sheen, Steve Tom and Kristen Wiig with cameos by Molly Shannon and David Spade and the voice of Carey Mulligan.
If you weren’t alive as the 1970s turned to the 1980s for the source of the satirical material, then even hearing real network miniseries such as The Thorn Birds won’t mean much of anything to you.
But did you need to know much about Telenovelas to appreciate Casa De Mi Padre?
You’re definitely the right age to have watched Funny or Die’s HBO series, with which The Spoils of Babylon fits right at home with in terms of its humor sensibilities, if not its longer running time. The first episode sets up our saga, with a boy with no name and no family, taken in by the man who drives past him on the dirt road. That man is Jonas Morehouse (Tim Robbins), who takes in the boy who grows up to be Devon Morehouse (Tobey Maguire) and that makes Cynthia, Kristen Wiig’s character, his sorta-sister sorta-lover, sorta-jilted lover. Especially when Devon goes off to fight in WWII and comes home with a mannequin for a wife (voiced by Carey Mulligan). Haley Joel Osment plays Winston, Cynthia’s son. And there will be blood. But we’ve gotten too far ahead of ourselves.
Wiig made her stock-in-trade on Saturday Night Live with caricatures of boldly buffoonish actresses from long-ago, which puts her back in the right timeframe here.
If the first episode is subtle, then the second is even more so, but loaded with sight gags. Makes for a series you really have to pay attention to as a viewer for all of the pictured punchlines to land. And that’s even before the mannequin love-making commences
For instance, there’s a great scene with Val Kilmer and his military colleague, played by the guy who himself bookended all of the HBO FoD series episodes — in which they’re delivering bad news to father and daughter Morehouse. In that minute or two, it’s not so much about parodying a time period as it is just having fun with continuity and space and time and allowing jokes to breathe without so much hot air.
But can you hold your breath waiting to see how this saga plays out next week?