Take a Drink: every time you spot the stuffed squirrel
Take a Drink: for incest jokes
Take a Drink: for every classic film reference
Take a Drink: whenever a character does
Take a Drink: for overblown monologues
Take a Drink: for dioramas
Do a Shot: to begin each episode, as a Toast to Eric Jonrosh’s scintillating vision
By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
When you get as big as Will Ferrell, there comes a point when you can get pretty much anything greenlit. He can even get 500 theaters for something like Casa de Mi Padre.
This really happened
Spoils of Babylon is his latest vanity project (for IFC this time) cleverly presented as the vanity project of noted writer/erstwhile director Eric Jonrosh (Ferrell). It’s a sweeping tale of an oil tycoon (Tim Robbins) and his daughter (Kristen Wiig) and adopted son (Tobey Maguire) who fall in love, grow up, and then a bunch of overly dramatic soap operatics ensue involving Val Kilmer, Michael Sheen, Jessica Alba, Carey Mulligan, David Spade, Molly Shannon, and Haley Joel Osment. Sounds awesome, right?
It is. This is first and foremost both a love letter to and a hilarious sendup of old-school melodramas like Giant and Douglas Sirk classics like Written on the Wind. It evolves from there though, covering everything from TV soaps like Dallas and Dynasty to one point where they mash up Bob Dylan’s No Direction Home and addiction dramas for some reason. Film nerds with eclectic tastes will love the wide variety of references, but even if you aren’t familiar with these films, Ferrell’s typical bizarre humor is plenty enough reason to watch.
As you can tell from the cast, there’s an variety of comic talents meshing together, and everyone gets a chance to ham it up memorably. They are all completely committed and obviously having a hell of a lot of fun. The MVPs, though, are Maguire and Wiig as the star-crossed sibling lovers and Ferrell’s lecherous, drunken author who bookends each episode with slurred commentary. Best of all, though, is Osment, who creepily looks exactly the same, but sounds like Pete Campbell from Mad Men for some reason. His unhinged, overdramatic character is pure gold.
Considering his child actor roots, maybe he’s not acting…
Director and co-writer Matt Piedmont directed Casa de Mi Padre, so you get the idea of what kind of humor you’re in store for. However, Spoils of Babylon improves on that formula greatly, with a love of dioramas, period touches like matte paintings and static vehicles, and a mix of framing and slapstick humor that struck me as something Wes Anderson would adore.
Ferrell and Piedmont throw so much at the screen that it’s inevitable some of it doesn’t stick. Some of the more bizarre tangents, like Lady Anne York or Jessica Alba’s undersea lab don’t hit, and should have been scaled back.
Carey Mulligan’s part, seriously.
The series loses a bit of steam at its midpoint, when it makes a shift from 50s-style melodrama to 70s and 80s soap opera. I’d recommend watching the series in two sittings, as much as you may not want to, and the shift won’t be as jarring.
Spoils of Babylon puts most spoofs to shame, even if it is spoofing some ultra-specific material.