Overblown spoof of overblown mini-series
This is the shaggy dog that ate your TV dinner.
The Spoils of Babylon (10 p.m. Thursday on IFC) is an elaborate parody of that extinct broadcast dinosaur, the bloated mini-series of yore, behemoths like The Winds of War and Rich Man, Poor Man.
This six-episode megaspoof comes from Will Ferrell's comedy website Funny or Die and features a distinctly overqualified cast. Since they are actors playing actors playing characters, listing them gets a little clunky.
But here goes: Tobey Maguire plays Dirk Snowfield as Devon Morehouse; Kristin Wiig plays Lauoreighiya Samcake as Cynthia Morehouse; Tim Robbins plays Sir Richard Driftwood as Jonas Morehouse; Val Kilmer plays Bobcat Maccaullie as General Cauliffe; Michael Sheen plays Christopher Smith as Chet Halner; and Jessica Alba plays Dixie Melonworth as Dixie Melonworth.
Spanning several decades and even more hairstyles, it's the story of a Texas family that goes from rags to untold riches, and of siblings (Maguire and Wiig) who have eyes only for each other.
It's a saga with more cheese than the state of Wisconsin, thunderously cliched dialogue, alley-cat lust, chintzy special effects, abrupt editing, and molten dramaturgy.
The most adroit touch is Steve Lawrence singing the authentically brash period theme song.
The funniest parts of each half-hour are the intro and outro provided by Ferrell in character as Eric Jonrosh, the pretentious old gasbag who was the author, director, and producer of The Spoils of Babylon. He explains, among other things, that no network would touch his '70s masterpiece at its original length - 22 hours - but he's delighted to present, at long last, this condensed version of his lost classic.
This limited series is a deliriously silly conceit, bordering on the excessive. (Wait until you meet Lady Anne.)
As enjoyable as it is to watch, it seems at the same time ridiculously far to go for a joke. You can't escape the feeling that an extraordinary amount of time, money, and talent have been spent on a thin premise.
But if these guys are having so much fun mocking TV's past - and they genuinely seem to be - how can we not merrily go along for the ride?
The Spoils of Babylon
10 p.m. Thursday on IFC