the spoils of babylon

I have been binge-watching “Eric Jonrosh’s ‘The Spoils of Babylon’” tonight on Netflix, for the first time since it first aired on IFC a few years ago. It’s just as funny as I remembered it being.

This is a parody of the type of potboiler miniseries that aired on network TV in the 70s and 80s – think “Rich Man, Poor Man,” “The Thorn Birds,” and “The Winds of War,” among many others. The conceit is that novelist Eric Jonrosh adapted his novel for television back in the 1970s, but it never aired, and now it’s being seen for the first time, with Jonrosh introducing each episode.

Of course, there is no such person– Will Ferrell (a partner in Funny Or Die, which produced the show) plays the part in a fat suit and huge beard, as an impression of latter-day, wine-commercial Orson Welles.

In keeping with the conceit, there are fake opening credits featuring the names of the (completely made-up) actors who starred in the production back in the 1970s, and about whom Jonrosh reminisces in his introductions.

The ensemble cast is great – Tobey Maguire, Kristin Wiig and Tim Robbins are the actual leads, but also appearing are Jessica Alba, Val Kilmer, Haley Joel Osment, David Spade, Molly Shannon and more.

The story, quite intentionally, jumps around in time and narrative styles. It begins during the depression, as struggling oil man Jonas Morehouse (Robbins) encounters and adopts a homeless boy, who fights against his forbidden attraction to his adopted sister. The story zips along, in six half hours, through the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s, mocking stereotypes and cliches at every turn.

If you missed this when it first aired, it’s a great thing to add to your Netflix queue. Netflix has also just added the followup, “Eric Jonrosh’s ‘The Spoils Before Dying,’” which is not a sequel and has no characters in common except for Jonrosh himself. “Dying” is a parody of the film noir genre, and it’s also quite funny.

Celebrity Jeopardy!

SNL SPOILERS AHEAD

I always wondered if “Saturday Night Live”s depiction of “Celebrity Jeopardy!” contestants as bumbling idiots made it harder for the real show to attact stars for its celebrity weeks.

Anyway, with Will Ferrell guest hosting SNL tonight, I was hoping for a “Celebrity Jeopardy” skit, and I was rewarded — and then some. Ferrell played Alex Trebek, of course, and Darrell Hammond was his nemesis Sean Connery, but Kristin Wiig played a Stupid Kathie Lee Gifford, and the part of Stupid Tom Hanks was played by … oh, wait. That was really Tom Hanks, in a lovely and unbilled bit of self-deprecation.

Three celebrity characters and that’s it, right? Well, not quite. All of a sudden, and without explanation, Norm MacDonald pops up as Burt Reynolds!

Wonderful. And Amy Poehler is sitting in on Weekend Update!

The hermeneutics of Will Ferrell

I normally sit right on the center aisle at church, and during the processional this morning the pastor stopped — not something he normally does — and whispered something to me.

“Keep me in prayer,” he said. “I’m about to use Ricky Bobby in a sermon illustration.”

I haven’t actually seen “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” but it apparently has a scene where the title character insists that he likes the baby Jesus better than the adult one.

Sure enough, the pastor used that prayer to point out that many of us are guilty of preferring the cute little baby, who makes no demands on us, to our Lord and Savior. Unlike the uninhibited Will Ferrell character, most of us know better than to say it out loud. So it was a relevant and useful illustration — but I understand why a preacher might have some misgivings about invoking a Will Ferrell / Adam McKay movie!