IFC debuted the faux miniseries The Spoils of Babylon, based upon the faux book by the same name. Was this an homage to 70s melodrama?
I should have been in the bag for The Spoils of Babylon. For a while on Netflix, I was seeking out the bad TV movies from the 1970s and 1980s and live-Facebooking them to share the joy.1 The drama is so self-serious but the drama source seems so quaint by today’s standards. Unfortunately, The Spoils of Babylon, opted for the twice-warmed over parody style of the Will Ferrell school of comedy (WFSoC) to create a six-part trek into tedium.
Thursday’s airing featured the first two half-hour installments of the story. Will Ferrell plays the Orson Wells-like author of the fake book on which the mini-series is based. After an overly long introduction by the “author”, we are treated to a theme sequence. Steve Lawrence sings the theme song, which is a nice touch, but all of the real actors are playing fake actors playing the story characters. All of the “actors” have stupid names, which is the final warning for those of us who are not fans of the WFSoC.
Babylon is the story of Devon Morehouse, a man who was found on the side of a road in West Texas as a child in 1931. He and his new sister have a romantic relationship of sorts while his father struggles to hold on to their land. Oil is discovered and the Morehouse family comes out of the Great Depression in strong financial shape. Devon gets drafted as a fighter pilot but gets captured after his plane is shot down. Presumed dead, Devon’s homecoming is cause for celebration until he introduces his new wife (played by a mannequin). Devon’s sister Cynthia is still in love with her brother and will not go down without a fight.
Aside from the mannequin bit, the beats of the story do hit the overwrought tone of an epic 70s mini-series. However, that’s where the similarities—and my personal enjoyment—end. The attempts to make the filming look budget instead make the production look like something in film school, with everything on screen basically pointing out “THERE’S THE JOKE! SEE THE JOKE! LAUGH AT THE JOKE! WASN’T THE JOKE FUNNY! HERE COMES ANOTHER JOKE!” It makes Airplane!, which attempted the same goal, seem subtle in comparison.
What confuses me the most with these first two episodes is the question of what the purpose of this project is. It seems the target demo for IFC would probably be too young to remember (or have experienced) the mini-series of the 1970s, so the parody doesn’t have resonance. There doesn’t seem to be a point-of-view in evidence, but perhaps that will be clearer as the story progresses. Frankly, if this was produced to more closely resemble a 1970s mini-series, I think there would be more genuine laughs. Instead, we have Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig and a cast of thousands beating jokes into the ground that were never that funny. We’ll see if the Spoils get fresher next week.