Sunday 18 February 2018

Television: Self-indulgent spoof a poor man's Dallas

Spoils of Babylon or Spoiled of Hollywood?
Spoils of Babylon or Spoiled of Hollywood?
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

A lot of people think Will Ferrell is funny. In fact, a lot of people think Will Ferrell is the funniest man alive. None more so than Will Ferrell himself.


As his recent endless publicity drive for Anchorman 2 showed (and any movie which seems to demand the cast spend a year promoting it always smacks of desperation), Ferrell approaches movie making with a Tom Cruise-like evangelical zeal, desperate to get bums on seats and further cement his position as the funniest person in his own head.

The thing about Ferrell is this – he's just not that funny. I know, funny is as funny does and mirth is in the eye of the beholder. But it's impossible to escape the impression that the person who laughs the hardest at his gags, wisecracks and quips is the man himself.

Apart from the harmless chuckles to be had from Elf and the catchphrase machine that was the bafflingly popular Anchorman franchise (punch the next person who says 'stay classy' as if they had just invented the phrase and say in your defence that the bloke from the Indo told you it was legally permissible), Ferrell's misses with his Funny Or Die project far outweigh the hits. And if you really want to see the painfully limited range of his abilities as both an actor and a writer then I dare you to check out You're Welcome America – A Final Night With George Bush, a two minute sketch of Ferrell's George Bush caricature stretched to an excruciatingly unfunny 90 minutes.

The excess flab and weapons grade smugness and self satisfaction of that one man show are here in spades in The Spoils Of Babylon, a lavish and expensive piss take of those old epic pot boilers like Rich Man, Poor Man, How The West Was Won and The Winds Of War – the kind of barnstorming epics that your parents probably enjoyed.

Ferrell book ends each episode as Eric Jonrush, the fictitious author of the book of the title, who looks like the mutated product of a drunken hook up between Orson Welles and Rowley Birkin QC. Clutching an ever increasing number of glasses of wine, he explains what happens in the upcoming episode about the fate of a self-made American family, the Morehouse clan who, under the tutelage of their patriarch Jonas (Tim Robbins), rise from dirt poor Texan shit kickers to an oil rich, multi-dsyfunctional bastardised hybrid of the Ewing clan from Dallas.

The thing is – Dallas was funnier. And for a programme that purported to be serious, it was obvious that the cast of that show never took themselves too seriously.

Conversely, for a show that is meant to be funny, The Spoils Of Babylon is so full of self indulgent, self congratulatory performances from arguably the finest TV cast of our generation (Ferrell, Robins, Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Wigg, Carey Mulligan and Jessica Alba) that an hour of JR Ewing is far preferable to the wafts of unbearable smugness that emanate from this curate's egg like some sort of laugh-killing radiation.

Saturday's episode, the second in the run, saw Maguire's Devon Morehouse, end up as a POW after being shot down by the Japanese over the Pacific, before returning home. But it doesn't really matter what happens, because we're all expected to simply sit back and bask in gratitude for such luminaries deigning to lend their names to TV.

One of the great dangers faced by any ensemble production is that the cast have a better time making it than we do in watching it.

The Spoils Of Babylon somehow manages to do the opposite – there are moments when the mugging stops and the actors seem genuinely confused about what the hell is going on. In fact, it's hard to escape the impression that every member of the cast thought it'd be a jolly jape to appear together before realising, too late, that the script was a dead dog.

Ironically, given the fact that they are dealing with such self consciously stentorian material, The Spoils Of Babylon will indeed stand the test of time – to be preserved as a perfect example of what happens when a bloated, self-congratulatory star gathers a bunch of his mates to make a self-indulgent mess.

The Spoils Of Babylon? The Spoiled Of Hollywood, more like.

Irish Independent

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