The Spoils of Babylon, the IFC miniseries produced by Funny or Die, returns this week to follow the escapades of the oil-wealthy Morehouse family. Like the previous two episodes, it opens with a hilarious Masterpiece Theater-esque introduction by author, “zeitgeistio” and “anecdotalist” Eric Jonrosh (Will Ferrell) doing his best Orson Welles.
Jonrosh, who wrote, directed, produced and financed The Spoils of Babylon rants about how he demanded perfection from the cast during filming and “shot about six lines of dialogue a day” with many takes from many angles. He also confesses that this particular episode of Spoils was crafted while he was under the influence of a hallucinogenic developed by Astrazeneca. The introduction’s humor is only magnified by odd camera angles and “sloppy” editing.
The rest of the episode doesn’t quite live up to the promise of Jonrosh’s monologue, though. (Maybe it was the drugs?)
As Devon Morehouse (Tobey Maguire) sits at his desk, bleeding from an earlier fight, he continues to chronicle his life story in a tape recording, rather than see a doctor. His wife Lady Anne (the mannequin voiced by Carey Mulligan) and his sister Cynthia (Kristen Wiig), are seemingly coming to terms with their relationships with Devon, as Lady Anne has just given birth to a daughter Marianne Abigail Morehouse (a doll, of course.)
Lady Anne unleashes Cynthia’s jealousy by mentioning that Devon could “warm me with his lovemaking” on the cold night. Cue the dramatic music and put on the 3D glasses (seriously, there’s a card that tell the audience to do so). Their catfight escalates and turns tragic; a fire much like the burning of Tara in Gone with the Wind, devastates the Morehouse estate. Devon is a wreck and decides to wander the world with Lady Anne’s smoldering head, leaving his daughter/doll with Cynthia.
We follow along on Devon’s bender with the episode pulling out every Beat Generation cliché, from flophouses to Olivetti typewriters and a moody jazz soundtrack. He’s developed quite a heroin habit and is rescued from himself by Cynthia. The sequence isn’t particularly funny—though Wiig gives it her best shot—but parodying drug withdrawal proves particularly tricky.
The dialogue has great over-the-top moments, though, as Devon tells his sister-turned-lover, “I kicked heroin. I can’t kick you” or that “Our love was forbidden by man, but sanctioned by the angels.” You really can’t get sappier than that, right? Well, The Spoils of Babylon does its best to corner the market on corny.
Kudos to Tim Robbins, for giving a bravura, soap opera-worthy performance as Jonas Morehouse. He manages to forbid his son from sleeping with his sister and also reveals the development of a secret steam carburetor that could bring down the oil industry—all during his death scene.
The episode ends with Devon and Cynthia out in a garden, lamenting their love and their fate. They perform the scene in English accents and utter phrases—like “to compare our love thusly”—that sound Shakespearian. It’s cute, but head-scratching. If there’s anything we’ve learned halfway into The Spoils of Babylon it’s to expect anything.
While we’re glad that The Spoils of Babylon isn’t afraid to take risks and try things differently than usual network comedy fare, writers and creators Matt Piedmont and Andrew Steele seem to be using the spaghetti approach to the miniseries—throwing every funny bit at the refrigerator to see what sticks. Unfortunately, they missed the mark this week, with lackluster comedy sketches outnumbering the gems. They threw away gold, too, by killing off Lady Anne. We can only now dream of more exchanges between the mannequin and Wiig.