Bill O’Byrne’s Bargain Bin Blues: The Spoils of Babylon

The Spoils of Babylon | Value for money: $$$

  • Created by Matt Piedmont, Andrew Steele.
  • Starring Tobey Maguire, Kristen Wiig, Will Ferrell.

PHIL vs BILL Two Saturday Night Live scribes were behind this six-part miniseries parody about an oil-rich Texas clan torn apart by the forbidden love between the patriarch’s daughter and his adopted son. Its cruddy production values are meticulously mounted, complete with priceless Orson Welles-style introductions from “author-producer-actor-writer-director-raconteur-bon vivant-legend-fabulist” Eric Jonrosh about his 22-hour “masterpiece” being cut to barely two. It still plays like an overlong SNL sketch but there’s much to savour when the players include Tim Robbins, Jessica Alba, Val Kilmer and Carey Mulligan.

PHIL vs BILL
Two Saturday Night Live scribes were behind this six-part miniseries parody about an oil-rich Texas clan torn apart by the forbidden love between the patriarch’s daughter and his adopted son. Its cruddy production values are meticulously mounted, complete with priceless Orson Welles-style introductions from “author-producer-actor-writer-director-raconteur-bon vivant-legend-fabulist” Eric Jonrosh about his 22-hour “masterpiece” being cut to barely two. It still plays like an overlong SNL sketch but there’s much to savour when the players include Tim Robbins, Jessica Alba, Val Kilmer and Carey Mulligan. — Phil Wakefield.

To work out whether you will enjoy The Spoils of Babylon, imagine a Venn diagram of three information sets. (For the younger, NCEA-era readers, just imagine three circles holding hands in a mutually supportive and caring way).

One set is labelled “People who watched any big dumb American miniseries from the 1970s and 1980s”.

Another is “People who think taking the piss out of any big dumb miniseries of the 1970s and 1980s is instantly hilarious” while the third is “People who think Will Ferrell is a comic genius, and so is Kristen Wiig and screw you if you don’t agree with me.”

If you live at the intersection of these three sets then you, my friend, have hit the golden comedy jackpot for that is what The Spoils of Babylon is all about.

Indeed, it is a deep parody. Each of the six episodes starts with Will Ferrell, as author Eric Jonrosh (think very, very late career Orson Welles), talking direct to camera in a restaurant.

He describes the origins of the series, which he wrote, directed, produced and financed himself “shooting on premium, nitrate, non-safety 93mm Tri-X reversal stock using Henrik Zylet’s three-times breathtake-o-scope anamorphic prime lenses”.

The rather stellar cast gets subsumed into the whole world of Spoils.

Tobey Maguire is credited as Dirk Snowfield playing Devon Morehouse, the orphan boy picked up on a back road of 1930s Texas by Tim Robbins (Sir Richard Driftwood as Jonas Morehouse) while Kristen Wiig is Lauoreighiya Samcake, as daughter Cynthia Morehouse.

And though Cynthia and Devon grow up as brother and sister, theirs is a bond that transcends earthly where brothers and sisters usually, even if only in the legal sense, don’t get it on. morality (Except for ancient Egypt and bits of rural New South Wales).

The joke is that while Jonrosh prattles on about his masterpiece, the actual Spoils is terribly made with ham acting, no production values and ridiculous continuity errors.

Tobey Maguire and Kristen Wiig as Cynthia and Devon Morehouse. Business partners, siblings, and would-be lovers.

On the plus side, it is fun watching big names having fun – Jessica Alba is Dixie Melonworth playing Dixie Melonworth as the oceanographer love interest and Val Kilmer deadpans it up as General Cauliffe.

The best surprise was Haley Joel Osment as Winston Morehouse, the son with murder on his heart and a need for weird affection. Osment has grown up most unfortunately looking, with a big doughboy head with two tiny raisins for eyes, but he tears his role to pieces and the really, big hair and loud shirts work for him.

It’s quirky rather than hilarious. You might snort a couple of times an episode. It’s backed by Saturday Night Live talent so it’s that sort of funny.

Adam Mckay is executive producer, and made every decent Will Ferrell movie, so there is that sort of thing going on, and they have announced a second series of which McKay says: “The first Spoils mini-series beat the NFL and Big Bang Theory in ratings (adults: ages 74-92) and changed the way Americans talk, think and prepare meat.

“We anticipate this new series from Jonrosh with Steele and Piedmont becoming the most watched television event in the history of earth.”

Extras: None. Well, unless chapter selections is a bonus for you. There is a faux behind the scenes documentary but that is only available on a geo-locked website that my usually reliable VPN couldn’t get past. I tried. For at least seven or eight minutes. If they’re gonna pack product off to the colonies, make sure we can see the extra goodies. Bastards.
Bill O’Byrne is a failed practitioner in the art of making movies. He has an imaginary Masters degree in being able to sit goggle-eyed and stare at TVs for hours on end. He is previously the official astrologer for the New Zealand Army and once made a complete cock of himself in front of Douglas Adams in Palmerston North. He has assorted nonsense here: kiwispacepatrol.wordpress.com.
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