If the name of legendary author/screenwriter/director/producer/fabulist Eric Jonrosh isn’t immediately familiar, it may be because he’s not actually a real person.
Will Ferrell plays the role of Jonrosh, the “author” of The Spoils Before Dying, a six-part comedy miniseries starring Michael K. Williams (Omar from The Wire), Kristen Wiig, and Maya Rudolph premiering Wednesday night on IFC. Those are all trusted names, but it still doesn’t answer the obvious question about The Spoils Before Dying: what the hell is it?
We haven’t seen much of it other than the trailer, so we went back to the previous project by the same creative team, The Spoils of Babylon, for a little more insight, and immediately fell in love.
Ferrell’s Eric Jonrosh introduces each episode in heavy makeup pretty clearly meant to evoke late-period Orson Welles – wine commercial Orson Welles, not Citizen Kane Orson Welles. You know, this Orson Welles:
Needless to say, this is a rich comic vein for Ferrell to tap, and his scenes bookending each episode may be the best thing about this miniseries, but it would still be very funny without them. The series proper stars Tobey Maguire, Kristen Wiig, and Tim Robbins as the main characters, with appearances by Haley Joel Osment, Jessica Alba, Val Kilmer, David Spade, and others I’m probably forgetting. The story is ridiculous: an oil prospector (Tim Robbins) and his young daughter come upon a boy walking by the roadside and adopt him on the spot; the man strikes oil just as the boy (now Tobey Maguire) and his adopted sister (Kristen Wiig) realize they’re in love; Maguire goes off to fight in WWII and returns with a new wife:
A jealous Wiig burns down the house the wife is in; Maguire becomes a junkie while Wiig takes over the company and makes them richer than ever; they finally consummate their passion, but Maguire leaves the company over philosophical differences; and on and on it goes through the decades, spoofing different tropes and genres every step of the way.
Maguire’s weird, loopy energy is put to better use than I’ve ever seen, Wiig is a perfect deadpan throughout, and the show mines a huge amount of comedy from bad production values like projection screens behind the cars for driving scenes, models and miniatures for all the buildings and exteriors, and bad wigs and costumes for each period.
All of which is to say, this second miniseries, by the same creative team – writers Matt Piedmont and Andrew Steele, with Piedmont directing and Piedmont, Steele, Ferrell, and Adam McKay listed as producers – sounds like more of the same, with a slight adjustment in setting (the city, jazz clubs, noir murder mystery) and cast (Maguire and Robbins out; Williams and Rudolph in), and we will be watching.