Review: Enjoy ‘Spoils Before Dying’ like a lark at a comedy star-studded party

Michael K. Williams in “The Spoils Before Dying”
Michael K. Williams stars as Rock Banyon, a jazz man who becomes a murder suspect.
Los Angeles Times Television Critic

These are larky times for comedy. Between dedicated cable stations, an Internet where everything can happen and a community of comic actors and writers who all seem to have one another on speed dial, a lot of improbable projects, some of them seemingly the product of a random thought, drunken conversation or dare, are coming to life.

Here is the miniseries “The Spoils Before Dying,” a follow-up to last year’s “The Spoils of Babylon.” Premiering Wednesday on IFC, which has become a home for offbeat comedy, it once again purports to be a “lost masterpiece,” written and directed by one Eric Jonrosh (played by Will Ferrell in wraparound segments as the inebriated spawn of Orson Welles and Jabba the Hut) from his own “bestselling novel.”

Where “Babylon” was framed as a late-'70s-style epic miniseries, “Dying’ is framed as cinema, an arty, noirish murder mystery in a style Jonrosh terms “post-postmodern French neo-fake-ism.” Supposedly made in 1959 in France and never before seen, it has been financed by the inventor of Bastille-O-Scope, a “mid-range grant from the Swedish Cinema Board” and product placements for “Boghei brand French-like cigarettes” and Bagpipes O’Toole Scotch-Flavored Vodka.

Michael K. Williams (“Boardwalk Empire”) plays Rock Banyon, a jazz pianist with a Miles Davis rasp and a Thelonious Monk cap and goatee who finds himself suspected of killing Fresno Foxglove, the Topanga Songbird (Maya Rudolph, who sticks around even after she dies). More properly stated, Williams plays actor Lincoln Washington, who plays Banyon, just as Kristen Wiig, returning from the first series, plays actress Laureighya Samcake, who plays chanteuse Delores DeWinter.


“Give me booze and pills, booze and pills, more pills and booze and pills, you know what I’m asking for,” Wiig scat sings, very prettily. “Please somebody get me a drink.... Don’t forget the pills, I’m still singin’ about the pills, actually I prefer the pills, give me some booze, man, ooh yeah, give me some booze and pills and pills and pills and pills and pills....”

Like the first “Spoils,” “Dying” was directed by Matt Piedmont and written by Piedmont with fellow “Saturday Night Live” alumnus Andrew Steele (who wrote the recent Ferrell and Wiig Lifetime movie prank, “A Deadly Adoption”). Incorporating along the way a cartoon, a public service message, “experimental film” and a ballet, full of bad special effects and eccentric cuts and camera angles, it is in some respects a three-hour sketch, but one made with attention to detail and an effective emotional through-line.

I liked it, as I would like any work that offered me a line like, “You still haven’t answered either part of my two-part original question.”

Watch it as if you were at a party, alongside Kate McKinnon, Tim Meadows, Molly Shannon, Chris Parnell, Andy Daly, Michael Sheen, Marc Evan Jackson, Haley Joel Osment, Tim Robbins and Jimmy Fallon, with Peter Coyote as the voice of a cat — because you are.



‘The Spoils Before Dying’

Where: IFC

When: 9 and 9:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday

Rating: TV-14-DLSV (may be unsuitable for children under age 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language, sex and violence)

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