Tobey Maguire, Tim Robbins
Here's the thing about satire: Parody has a sharper sting if what's being ridiculed is actually relevant. And while it looks like everyone's having a grand time lampooning the old-school histrionics of the classic TV miniseries "epic" in IFC's elaborate all-star Funny or Die put-on The Spoils of Babylon, I'm afraid the fun isn't all that contagious, in part because the joke is such a stale one to begin with.
The whole enterprise, which consists of six half-hour chapters (the first two airing back-to-back starting Thursday at 10/9c), has the musty whiff of one of those movies derived from so-so Saturday Night Live sketches. Each installment opens with a staged intro, featuring a heavily made-up Will Ferrell as a rotund Orson Welles-like egomaniac impresario (described as "author, producer, actor, writer, director, raconteur, bon vivant, legend, fabulist" — and that's just the first episode's credits) who sinks further and further into his (wine) cups as he reflects on his lost late-'70s "masterpiece," which he self-financed as if he were Scrooge McDuck.
Many of the gags (which tend to wear thin quickly) derive from the ridiculously cheesy production design, which includes toy cars and obvious miniature houses in establishing shots, horrendous special effects and phony backdrops for action or outdoor scenes. The over-the-top acting is similarly milked for broadly comic effect, which tests the limits of even a skilled farceur like Kristen Wiig, whose forbidden love for adopted brother Tobey Maguire sets the ludicrous plot in motion. (Tim Robbins plays their oil-mogul father with a puckishly portentous deadpan.)
Some of the stylistic touches are amusing, including a bombastic theme song belted by Steve Lawrence, but the strain shows as Babylon's sketchy premise is elongated to miniseries length. And yet I'd be delighted if it all ended with Toonces the Driving Cat being resurrected to send everyone off a cliff. Ah, the spoils of nostalgia.
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A COMEDY MILESTONE: One of the paradoxes of TV is that while cable commands most of the critical attention when it comes to trendy dramas, network TV still mostly rules in the arena of comedy. Thursdays are a perfect example. NBC's longtime underdog Parks and Recreation has defied the odds and this week makes it to the magic 100th episode (8:30/7:30c). It's a potentially pivotal one, with Leslie (Amy Poehler) facing her last day in office while Andy (Chris Pratt) finally returns from London, and soon-to-be-ex-Pawnee residents Ann Perkins and Chris (Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe) learn their baby's gender. Whether he or she, you know it's going to be beautiful. ... While the even more cult-ish Community (8/7c) deals with a campus prankster who's dropping coins down unsuspecting people's pants, NBC's other struggling comedies turn to guest stars: Stacy Keach returning to Sean Saves the World (9/8c) as the dad of Sean's bizarre boss, back to woo Sean's mom (Linda Lavin) to everyone's horror. And it's a mini-Spin City reunion when Richard Kind appears on The Michael J. Fox Show (9:30/8:30c) as a mobster who lives in Mike's building.
Millions more eyeballs, of course, will be turned to CBS's comedies, especially the megahit The Big Bang Theory (8/7c), which finds Sheldon and Penny with lots of time on their hands. He's forced to take time off, and she quit her job. Anything that gives Jim Parsons and Kaley Cuoco extended screen time together is OK with me. ... On the deafening The Millers (8:31/7:31c) Carol's (Margo Martindale) tirades inspire son Nathan (Will Arnett) to do the same on air. ... On the steadily improving The Crazy Ones (9:01/8:01c), the beautiful Lauren (Amanda Setton) gets a rare chance to shine, picking up the slack with an important client when everyone else comes down with the flu. ... And what's the great Mrs. C. (Marion Ross) doing on CBS's Two and a Half Men (9:31:8:31/c)? Raising the bar would probably be too much to ask.
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