IFC’s oddball Spoils of Babylon didn’t seem particularly ripe for a sequel when it aired last year, but here we are: The Spoils Before Dying, a six-episode mini-series, finishes up tonight. It’s overwhelmingly ridiculous, but joyfully so. I would have called it the strangest comedy of the week by a long shot — until I saw 7 Days in Hell, HBO’s tennis mockumentary starring Andy Samberg. Now that’s a weird comedy.
Both, in fact, are very odd, reveling in hyperspecific nonsense, style parodies, appearances by Michael Sheen and a variety of SNL alumni, and a sense that these projects are probably funnier in idea than in execution. What’s the polite term for vanity project?
Spoils Before Dying is about a jazz musician (Michael Kenneth Williams), his boozy paramour (Kristen Wiig), and his ghost ex (Maya Rudolph). Explaining the plot overemphasizes its significance; mostly it’s a lot of silly names and loopy characters. Hell is a faux documentary about a seven-day tennis match between a washed-up Aaron Williams (Andy Samberg, the white adopted brother of the Williams sisters), and a British dope (Kit Harington). Think 30 for 30, but more about its bizarre asides than its subject. Both programs have their virtues, and plenty of very funny pieces, but I’m guessing both were more enjoyable to make than they are to watch.
And yet there’s something endearing about both endeavors. Maybe it’s their willingness to take premises far, far past logical extremes — how exactly did we get from tennis to a computer-animated news reenactment of Samberg’s naked character running from a Swedish prison, with a four-foot-long dick flapping around? — and yet are unflaggingly committed to the bit. That’s admirable in its way. Beyond the material, though, is the little thrill of seeing people together again. Oh, Andy Samberg, Fred Armisen, and Will Forte are all here! And there’s Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph! It’s a Muppet-level the gang’s all here sensation. Why, it’s everyone whose comedy and comedy cameos you’ve enjoyed over the last several years.
Maybe the only way to achieve that is in weird comedy, one with a focus that seems to be “ha-ha, wouldn’t it be fun if … ” That’s why, even given the flabbiness of both Spoils and Hell, I find myself wishing for more at-bats for the genre. With every passing second, our world is producing more television. And yet, so little of it looks or seems like fun. Somewhere amid the serious dramas, the “serious” dramas, the schlocky comedies, the highbrow comedies, the documentaries, the reunion shows, the singing contests, and the distressed-rich-people shows, there is and needs to be room for gleeful peculiarity.