At the midway point of Episode 2 of IFC’s outrageously campy show, The Spoils of Babylon, we’re treated to a very peculiar sight: Tobey Maguire (a.k.a. Spider-Man) violently pelvic-thrusting at a British-accented mannequin, voiced by Oscar nominated actress Carey Mulligan. After a series of psychedelic close-ups—with Maguire’s eyes bugging out of his head—it cuts to him walking away in a disheveled tuxedo shirt. The mannequin, meanwhile, lies in a heap of legs and arms on the stately king-sized bed.
Such are the bizarre pleasures of this six-episode miniseries, which begins airing on Jan. 9. It’s a spoof of those epic, star-studded TV event-style miniseries’ of the ‘70s, a la The Thorn Birds, with a touch of the Peter Sellers spy-comedy Casino Royale. It’s also the brainchild of Andrew Steele and Matt Piedmont, the latter of which was Will Ferrell’s favorite Saturday Night Live writer, and who directed Ferrell in the Spanish language spoof Casa de Mi Padre (Ferrell serves as executive producer on the series, along with Anchorman 2 director/frequent collaborator Adam McKay).
Ferrell kicks off the proceedings. He is Eric Jonrosh, a portly, port-guzzling, narcissistic old fart who’s billed as an “Author-Producer-Actor-Writer-Director-Raconteur-Bon Vivant-Legend-Fabulist” (eat your heart out, James Franco) of The Spoils of Babylon, an “epic” novel of his that was adapted into an “epic” 22-hour film (which has since been condensed to three, shown in six half-hour installments).
“At a certain point in my career as an artist, I made a necessary decision to discontinue suffering fools,” he scoffs.
And thus, Ferrell, sporting a gross, Gimli-esque beard, aging makeup that’d make the cast of J. Edgar cringe, and plenty of over-the-top panache, kicks off this bawdy bildungsroman.
The action opens with a bang—or two. Inside a mansion, a woman (Kristen Wiig, in a fabulous ‘70s-era blond wig) stands between two men pointing guns at one-another, played by the aforementioned Maguire and Haley Joel Osment (of The Sixth Sense fame). There are two gunshots, followed by a deafening scream. Maguire, with a bullet wound to the gut, stumbles out of the house, hops into a convertible, and—casually smoking a cigarette—speeds away to the giant office of Morehouse Conglomerated. There, in his empty office, he tells his story to a Dictaphone (channeling Double Indemnity) of how he became “Devin Morehouse.”
Babylon’s first episode is a bit of a mixed bag. Morehouse’s tale, told in flashback, isn’t very engaging. In 1931 West Texas, he’s spotted on the side of the road by Jonas Morehouse (Tim Robbins, in overalls) and his 9-year-old daughter, Cynthia (who grows up to be Wiig), and subsequently adopted. Jonas strikes oil, the family gets rich, and it’s all a bit of a snooze ‘til Wiig pops up onscreen as Maguire’s stepsister, who harbors a quasi-incestuous crush on her adopted brother. Wiig is an absolute riot, turning in an insanely-exaggerated, soap opera-on-meth performance. “Stop calling me ‘sis!” Wiig shrieks. “I’m a woman now! Full-bodied, and filled with desire!”
They awkwardly kiss, and the episode ends with them hearing about the bombing of Pearl Harbor over the radio, and Maguire’s character enlisting in the armed forces. Maguire, for his part, does a much better job narrating here than he did in The Great Gatsby or, presumably, Life of Pi (which he was cut from).
While Episode 1 is a bit of a bore, the second episode is flat-out hilarious. It’s bookended once more with Ferrell as Jonrosh, who announces, “I slept with the cast. Every member of the cast you’ll see tonight, I slept with. My wife at the time, Lauoreighiya Samcake, who plays Cynthia Morehouse (Wiig), was very adventurous in all matters sexual. The woman had no shame! Like Eve before the fall, we’d often hold up shooting to take pleasure from each other’s flesh—in front of everyone.”
Then we’re introduced once again to Maguire’s character, whose plane is shot down during WWII. When Wiig hears the news, she sobs.
“I will not be shamed by this!” screams Robbins, repeatedly play-slapping and shaking a frantic Wiig (fantastic).
Maguire returns from WWII, but he’s accompanied by his wife—a British mannequin who goes by “Lady Anne York” (voiced by Mulligan).
In the series’ most outrageously funny sequence, Wiig’s character, jealous that her love is married to this saucy British sex doll, throws serious shade at her over a fancy breakfast. As Lady Anne York gushes over she and Tobey’s “spiritual and sexual intercourse,” Wiig begins frantically carving at anything in sight, from a croissant to broccoli, and spilling her Bloody Mary everywhere.
“Devon will be mine!” she screams. “And not as my brother… but as my lover!”
Later, the action cuts to Wiig sitting in a rocking chair, clad in all-black funeral attire, violently cutting the hair of a doll while watching rain pour down through the window.
The Spoils of Babylon may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Its brand is a specific type of comedy—like a bombastic Saturday Night Live skit replete with wacky turns and wild accents, and packed to the nines with famous actors (future episodes promise Jessica Alba, Michael Sheen, and David Spade, among others). But I, for one, will be tuning in.