Of all the gin joints in all the world, thank goodness the gang from Will Ferrell’s Funny or Die productions wandered into Swingyard, the fictional jazz club where the moody noir spoof “The Spoils Before Dying” begins.
The six-episode, three-night miniseries, airing on IFC from Wednesday through Friday, is a spinoff of last year’s “The Spoils of Babylon,” featuring some of the same characters who now populate the supposedly long-suppressed early film by author and director Eric Jonrosh, a legend in his own mind, as the saying goes.
Actually, he’s a Falstaffian figure modeled on Orson Welles, and that figure is quite round when we meet him in the introductions and farewells bracketing each episode. We already know that Jonrosh is a writer of singular incompetence, so we’re not surprised that he’s at least as bad a director and screenwriter, not to mention composer of the theme for his “Spoils of Babylon” film.
“Spoils” may indeed be long lost, but within minutes, we not only see why but have already begun laughing at its cinematic hubris. We meet jazz piano player Rock Banyon (Michael Kenneth Williams) accompanying his occasional lover Fresno Foxglove (Maya Rudolph) singing a really awful song, but not as awful as the song “Booze and Pills” we’ll hear her replacement, Dolores De Winter (Kristen Wiig), sing later on.
For a while, Dolores’ tune seems to be literally a song without end, as she repeats “give me some booze and pills” again and again. The longer she continues, the funnier the scene is.
When Fresno turns up dead, Banyon is the chief suspect and sets out to investigate the case himself to clear his name. His manager, Alistair Barnaby St. Bixby-Jones (Haley Joel Osment), only cares about advancing Banyon’s career and pursues him relentlessly to make a “Jazz With Strings” record to achieve mainstream success.
In his quest for the truth about Fresno’s killer, Banyon encounters a chain-smoking bartender in a gay bar (Molly Shannon), a necrophiliac coroner (Tim Meadows), a drugged-out hooker (Kate McKinnon), a gay barfly who identifies himself as a “hahma-sexual” (Michael Sheen), a high-rolling drug dealer (Chris Parnell) and a pair of comically typecast cops (Steve Tom, Marc Evan Jackson), among others.
All of this is presented in a smoky haze of hilarity, with ridiculously stupid mock noir dialogue, and cinematography so densely layered, it’s hard to know what you’re supposed to be watching. Since Jonrosh apparently couldn’t pay for location shots, exteriors are all represented by toy cars ambling along through miniature cities. There’s even a sex scene, which is among the many aspects of the original film said to have been censored, so Jonrosh re-creates it as a series of cartoony storyboards.
If anything, “Spoils Before Dying” is funnier than “Babylon.” The earlier miniseries spoofed ’40s melodramas, but this year’s model takes a narrower approach, mining the staples of the even more formulaic noir films, capturing the excesses of the hard-boiled dialogue and pushing them just far enough over the edge to knock you out of your chair.
WHERE TO WATCH
The miniseries “The Spoils Before Dying” airs at 8 p.m. Wednesday-Friday on IFC.