TV & Film

What Exactly Is 'Spoils Of Babylon' Parodying?

On Jan. 9, "Spoils Of Babylon" will grace IFC. The heavily-star packed parody appears to be an elongated "SNL" sketch -- so elongated that the initial cut was supposedly 22 hours long. But what exactly are Kristen Wiig and Co. spoofing for all that time?

As Variety's Brian Lowry pointed out, it's unlikely much of the target audience has had any familiarity with the miniseries at which "Spoils" takes aim, leaving potential entertaining scenes feeling a "tad inside baseball" for the uniformed. Essentially, "Spoils" is stylized as a mini series, the most quintessential of which is "Thorn Birds." Now, to help you mull through the satirical incest with some understanding of the inside jokes only your grandma would get, here's a handy guide to the source material.

So, what is a miniseries?

"Miniseries" refers to a finite story, told across several episodes, usually over the course of a single season. The type that "Spoils" is spoofing were often epic in scope, highly dramatic, with lengthy development almost exactly mirroring the books upon which they were often based.

Wait, aren't there still miniseries today?

Yes, but the kind of thing "Spoils" is parodying, reached its hey day in the '70s and '80s. They were often rather slow-moving and based off of prolific novels. Although it is not technically a miniseries, probably the closest thing we have resembling them today would be "Downton Abbey." Although, the pacing is much faster than what one would have seen in the meticulous developments of shows like "Thorn Birds"

What are some of the most popular miniseries from that time?

Perhaps the most well-known is "Roots," for its groundbreaking presentation of slavery. The norm is better depicted through miniseries like "North and South," which tells the tale of two friends struggling to maintain their relationship, when they are forced to face each other in the Civil War. Another example is "Rich Man, Poor Man," which told the story of a an impoverished immigrant juxtaposed with a successful entrepreneur (and also possibly inspired the parenting book "Rich Dad, Poor Dad.")

You mentioned "Spoils" is most closely parodying "Thorn Birds." What exactly is that about?

"Thorn Birds" is based on the novel of the same name by Colleen McCullough. It is an epic, which tells the story of Australian sheep herder Meggie (Rachel Ward) who falls for Ralph (Richard Chamberlain), a young priest. Of course, their affection is forbidden, so there are lots of tortured embraces and sideways glances. (Skip to 5:44 for one of the better ones below.)

So, what kind of things will "Spoils" be making fun of?

Miniseries tropes include prolonged character development as well as an epic time span -- "Spoils" apparently spans over the course of 50 years. Rather than skipping ahead or using plot turns as focal points, miniseries tell a single story in its entirety, including the more mundane aspects of the plot. Also, melodrama.

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post stated incorrectly that "North and South" was a story about two brothers.

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