Will Ferrell’s The Spoils before Dying: “Sub-Airplane! gags just can’t get off the runway”

The sequel to Ferrell's TV comedy The Spoils of Babylon boasts a glossy film noir backdrop - but it's the same lacklustre formula, finds Gary Rose

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Creators Matt Piedmont and Andrew Steele did well to get a second helping of this comedy mini-series commissioned, because its predecessor, The Spoils of Babylon, was something of a frustrating flop.

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Frustrating, because Babylon enticed you into its screwball world under entirely false pretences. Its glitzy cast, fabulous music and Thunderbirds-style opening credits promised more than the show could ever have realistically delivered. By the time crooner Steve Lawrence’s theme tune had dissolved into the ether, I was convinced The Spoils of Babylon was a classic in the making.

Like a junkie, I spent the following 21 minutes hoping to recapture the high of the opening sequence. What I actually got was a spiral into incoherence followed by a painful comedown.

This nosedive in quality was reflected in the ratings, which plummeted from just under half a million for episode one to a paltry 77,000 by the finale — unthinkable for a show anchored by Will Ferrell and with Tobey Maguire, Kristen Wiig, Tim Robbins, Jessica Alba, Val Kilmer and Michael Sheen also on its payroll.

Could The Spoils before Dying succeed where Babylon failed? Unfortunately, on the evidence of the first couple of episodes, it’s more of the same — only this time set against a glossy 1950s film noir backdrop.

It’s not all bad: Michael Kenneth Williams (The Wire, Boardwalk Empire) is decent as the swinging, Tom Waits-soundalike jazz cat who finds himself framed for murder. And again, the retro styling is spot-on, the music’s silky smooth, and if there were an Emmy award for typography, Spoils would give the competition a proper licking.

The problem is, the script is missing the guilty-pleasure spark that made you laugh at the likes of The Naked Gun or Anchorman despite yourself. Its sub-Airplane! gags just can’t get off the runway; instead they flounder haplessly on the tarmac, hoping that if they repeat themselves often enough somebody will laugh out of pity.

All of this is a shame, because there’s clearly a lot of talent involved here. But like a rock supergroup who’ve knocked out a lacklustre album, the whole turns out to be far less than the sum of its parts. File under “stylish but insubstantial”.

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The Spoils before Dying begins on Thursday 23rd July at 10:30pm on Fox

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