After viewing the sixth and final episode of The Spoils of Babylon, we couldn’t help but wonder one thing about the Funny or Die miniseries: Why didn’t we laugh more?
The premise was rich with possibilities. A parody of 1980s melodramatic miniseries—a la The Thorn Birds and The Winds of War (Google them if you’re not familiar)—produced by Will Ferrell’s and Adam McKay’s comedy site seemed like a sure thing. Add a stellar cast featuring Ferrell, Tobey Maguire, Kristen Wiig, Tim Robbins, Haley Joel Osment and others for comedy gold, right?
Wrong. Maybe the bronze, at best. The miniseries, epitomized by this week’s grand finale, “So Sweet the Bells,” was a bit of a letdown. While there were moments of mirth, Spoils mostly fell prey to the same self-indulgent pratfalls of the cheesy miniseries of yesteryear. The end result lies closer to imitation than mockery.
The episode wraps up the tragic saga of the Morehouse family. With their oil company on the brink of bankruptcy, the star-crossed, (adopted) brother-sister/lovers Devon and Cynthia Morehouse (Maguire and Wiig) meet after years of estrangement.
The florid dialogue in the reunion scene is representative of the over-the-top and trite language that doesn’t register the laughs as expected: “Well, hello there stranger,” Devon calls to his sister. “Am I such a stranger?” she asks. “Perhaps not in my heart,” he replies. “My heart is home to you as well…” Oh brother (and sister).
Cue the swelling soundtrack as Devon and Cynthia drink “Burgundy red wine” out of seriously oversized wine goblets on a deserted beach. They bury the hatchet and give into their passion once again in an epic love-making session on the sand, complete with a sunset in soft focus. The music is grandiose and perfectly complements the scene, which turns out to be one of the highlights of the episode.
Cynthia warns Devon that her son Winston (Osment) may be out to harm him, but she fails to mention that his nephew…is also his son. Wiig’s expressions as she tries to tell her brother of Winston’s true patronage are hilarious and reminiscent of her many great characters from Saturday Night Live. Unfortunately, Wiig outshines her scene partner here (though Maguire does mellow, doe-eyed looks better than anyone in the business).
It’s tough to make faux bad, hammy acting funny, and only a few of the actors in Spoils can pull it off. Osment can surprisingly keep up with Wiig and Ferrell, the other SNL alum. Osment gleefully chews the scenery as evil Winston, out for revenge against his mother and father.
In a ploy to gain control of Morehouse Oil, Winston makes a deal with the Shah of Iran (played by Eric Jonrosh aka Will Ferrell) to deliver nuclear bombs in exchange for oil. At Cynthia’s annual arts gala, tragedy strikes as the Morehouse family reunites.
The scattered storyline leaves many unresolved issues: What happens when the shah acquires the nuclear weapons? Did Devon’s underwater lab close? Did anyone recover the water-powered carburetor? Did the two Army generals give into their desires? The show’s many throwaway characters were seemingly created just to cast as many big names as possible. And while entertaining, sight gags and cheap set design gimmicks sprinkled throughout can’t redeem the series.
While we admire the risk-taking in this noble TV experiment, ultimately, Spoils didn’t go far enough. Without the witty banter and double entendres that make up classic parodies like Top Secret or Airplane!, the miniseries falls short. In the end, Spoils took itself way too seriously—and not in the Christopher Guest kind of way.