The “Spoils of Babylon” assembles the kind of cast that could power an Oscar-winning blockbuster: Will Ferrell, Tim Robbins, Kristen Wiig, Tobey Maguire and Carrie Mulligan train their combined firepower on the most defenseless (and indefensible) of targets, the schlocky miniseries.
Why, many have asked. What’s the point of making fun of “The Thorn Birds,” a 1983 series few will still bother to defend? There’s no comic edge to taking down the softest of soft targets.
Which is exactly the point.
The total pointlessness of the “Spoils of Babylon” frees it up be a delivery system for absurdist set-pieces. The first episode only has one really funny moment, because it mostly lets us adjust to the show’s deliberately dopey rhythm. That moment involves an inscription on a compass – there’s nothing to do but give in and laugh. A lot.
The second episode has two even funnier set pieces, one of which is masterfully silly: Wiig passionately faces off with a mannequin, voiced by Mulligan. It’s some of the best acting either has ever done. It’s gloriously, throw-up-your hands ridiculous.
Most people won’t like this kind of thing, which is why it’s on IFC instead of a Major Motion Picture. It’s a perfect place for it. IFC has some of the funniest, weirdest shows on television for those of us who like that kind of thing.
Ferrell bookends each episode as Eric Jonrosh, the probably alcoholic mastermind behind the series. He plays Jonrosh as kind of an unhinged James Lipton, pompous, fussy, totally lacking self-awareness. He never released “The Spoils of Babylon” three decades ago, because as 22 hours it was deemed too long. He explains that even in its current abbreviated form, it’s still better than anything on TV today.
To make the attack on decades-old miniseries even more one-sided and unfair, the film Jonrosh unveils turns out to be exquisitely low-budget. Every car or house is a miniature. The editing is chaotic. Only the music is good – really good, given how trashy it is.
The unnecessary plot: Robbins plays a speculator-turned-millionaire who adopts Maguire’s character after finding him at the side of the road. Wiig’s character, Robbins’ biological daughter, wants her new brother to kiss her, a lot. There are shades of “Citizen Kane,” “There Will Be Blood,” and the original “Lolita.” But none of that matters. This is silliness for its own wonderfully ridiculous sake.
Matt Piedmont and Andrew Steele write and executive produce the series, which is produced by Ferrell and Adam McKay’s Funny or Die.
“The Spoils of Babylon” premieres Thursday at 10/9c on IFC.