If you were to take The Thorn Birds, The Winds of War, Thunderbirds, some big name Hollywood stars, half a kilo of cheese and put them in a blender, then you would probably end up with something like The Spoils of Babylon.
What on earth to make of this….?
Produced by the good folk behind Funny or Die this is a complete indulgence, and for that it gets respect.
From the moment Will Ferrell greets us at a restaurant table as “Author, Producer, Actor, Writer, Director, Raconteur, Bon Vivant, Legend, Fabulist” Eric Jonrosh, it’s clear none of this is to be taken seriously.
Doing his best Orson Welles impression, he waxxes lyrical about his pet project, the sprawling miniseries The Spoils of Babylon. He introduces his tale with lashings of arrogance, excess and whimsy, from behind a glass of red. Or 3.
From there the opening title sequence (complete with the Theme from The Spoils of Babylon sung by ‘Steve Lawrence’) channels the 1960s. Think James Bond meets Funky Squad (ok maybe that was the ’70s).
For this extravagance, Hollywood names have joined in the fun: Tobey Maguire, Kristen Wiig, Tim Robbins, Val Kilmer, Jessica Alba, Haley Joel Osment and Michael Sheen.
Maguire plays Devon Morehouse, first found in flashback wandering an arid road as a young boy. When Jonas Morehouse (Tim Robbins) drives by with his young daughter Cynthia, he adopts the foundling.
As they grow older Devon and Cynthia (Kristen Wiig) share a forbidden connection: foster-siblings who fall in love. Meanwhile after years of struggling, Jonas is about to strike oil.
The melodrama is poured on thick and the actors have plenty of fun hamming it up. Beware of deliberate bad acting in front of green screens intercut with file footage. Most hilarious of all are the miniature models that serve as exteriors for mansions and aerial shots.
While the story is clearly parodying bloated, melodramatic miniseries from the 1980s, on occasions I was reminded of Giant, just without Liz Taylor, James Dean and Rock Hudson. There was a fair dose of passion, angst and Texas oil.
At one point a mannequin will “act” alongside real actors, with her voice dubbed by Carey Mulligan.
Not everything works, with the potential to sometimes leave the audience out of the gag, and it may take two episodes just to comprehend the whole thing. I suspect it was more fun to play than to view and the humour will likely polarise, which probably explains why this is on ABC2.
If you’re looking for something unlike anything else on the box, this is right up there.
The Spoils of Babylon airs 9:30pm Thursday March 20 on ABC2.