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Eric Jonrosh's The Spoils Before Dying DVD Review

Eric Jonrosh's The Spoils Before Dying DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Eric Jonrosh's The Spoils Before Dying (2015)
Miniseries & DVD Details

Creators/Writers: Andrew Steele, Matt Piedmont / Director: Matt Piedmont

Executive Producers: Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, Derek Waters, Jeremy Konner, Owen Burke

Cast: Michael Kenneth Williams (Rock Banyon), Kristen Wiig (Delores DeWinter), Maya Rudolph (Fresno Foxglove), Michael Sheen (Kenton Price), Steve Tom (Chip Donwelly), Marc Evan Jackson (Kermit Biggs), Will Ferrell (Eric Jonrosh/J. Edgar Hoover), Chin Han (Salizar Vasquez DeLeon), Haley Joel Osment (Alistair St. Barnaby Bixby-Jones), Tim Meadows (Gary Dunhill), Peter Coyote (voice of Dizzy the Cat), Bιrιnice Marlohe (Beatrice), Emily Ratajkowski (Agent Day), Louis Gossett Jr. (Duke Webster), Jimmy Fallon (Detective Kenneth Bluntley), Chris Parnell (Bebop Jones), Andy Daly (Artie Mann), Molly Shannon (Tricksy), Kate McKinnon (Dallas Boudreau), Jack Kilmer (Tabby Smooth), Bree Condon (Groovy VaVoom), Kari Coleman (Dr. Caligarious), Chris Mulkey (Ed Nestly), Phil Pavel (Maitre'D), Patty Guggenheim (Red LaLane), Brooke Peoples (Jiffy), Ted Levine (Gerhart Moll), Jesse Williams (Parker), Tim Robbins (Red-Vested Bartender)

Running Time: 130 Minutes (6 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated
2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish; Not Closed Captioned
Suggested Retail Price: $24.98
DVD Release Date: June 7, 2016 / Episodes Originally Aired July 8, 2015 - July 10, 2015
Black Keepcase / Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Also available on Amazon Instant Video

Buy The Spoils Before Dying from Amazon.com: DVD • Instant Video

The Spoils of Babylon was one of the more off-the-wall things to come from Will Ferrell and Adam McKay's Gary Sanchez Productions. The six-episode series, a star-studded send-up of the epic miniseries of the 1970s,
could only have aired on IFC, the deep cable channel whose slogan is "Always On, Slightly Off." Over the course of five weeks, the miniseries saw its audience shrink from around 440,000 viewers for its premiere to just 77,000 for its season finale.

Seventy-seven thousand viewers will get original programming axed at most places, but not IFC. Six months after that scarcely-seen finale, IFC ordered the follow-up miniseries The Spoils Before Dying from writers Andrew Steele and Matt Piedmont. Despite airing on three consecutive nights, this one, losing Tobey Maguire as producer and star and a number of the bigger name gets of Babylon, found it even harder to attract an audience, starting with 140,000 viewers and getting as low as 30,000 by the second night before rebounding slightly for the final two installments. While few could imagine saying no to a Ferrell and McKay production these days, I suspect we've seen the last of this particular brand of comedy, which was always bound to be a hard sell.

Murder suspect/jazz pianist Rock Banyon (Michael Kenneth Williams) has a chat with beatnik cat Dizzy in Eric Jonrosh's "The Spoils Before Dying."

Ferrell reprises his role as pompous blowhard Eric Jonrosh, the author-director-producer of The Spoils Before Dying, who addresses the camera at the start and finish of each installment. Unrelated to the previous Spoils, this miniseries nonetheless retains some of the same cast members playing the same actors playing different parts, including Kristen Wiig, Michael Sheen, Haley Joel Osment, and Steve Tom.

A "lost film" based on Jonrosh's 1958 novel, Dying strikes an entirely different tone, telling the story of Rock Banyon (Michael Kenneth Williams), a jazz pianist wrongfully accused of murder in the late 1950s. Accordingly, this series sets its satirical targets on mystery and noir.

Banyon gets questioned by a couple of police detectives (Steve Tom and Marc Evan Jackson) after his colleague and lover, singer Fresno Foxglove (Maya Rudolph), is murdered on a night they performed together. The two detectives give Banyon three days including the current one to get to the bottom of the murder and clear his name. With another songbird (Kristen Wiig) at his side, Banyon goes digging for answers, eventually discovering a far-reaching conspiracy involving Adolf Hitler, homosexuality, and J. Edgar Hoover (briefly played by Jonrosh/Ferrell).

As in the previous "Spoils", Kristen Wiig serves as leading lady, this time playing lounge club singer Delores DeWinter.

Dying serves up more of the gimmickry and randomness that we got in Babylon. The comedy begins with extensive joke credits full of made-up formats, financers, and titles for Jonrosh, who shot this in "Bastille-o-scope" at the recommendation of a French lens maker.
From faux product placement (French-like cigarettes are repeatedly promoted) and melodramatic acting to bizarre camerawork and puzzling pacing, Dying is layered with humor you might not entirely get or appreciate. It's inventive, to be sure, but even less satisfying as a coherent narrative than its slipshod by design predecessor.

Dying keeps needing random jolts of humor, like Tim Meadows playing a coroner who repeats the same line multiple times, emphasizing a different word each iteration, or a censored sex scene reconstructed with storyboards and audio or a location that brings us more than fifty stories underground via a mixture of elevators and stairs. Otherwise, you'd get bored in a hurry. There isn't the laugh quotient you expect of either big or small screen comedy and that coupled with the strangeness will drive away many viewers. But at least you can't fault Ferrell and McKay for sticking to the high-paying tried and true gigs.

Almost a year after airing, Spoils Before Dying hits DVD this week from Anchor Bay Entertainment.

The cinematic "The Spoils Before Dying" employs the wider 2.40:1 aspect ratio and an assortment of technical gimmickry.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Like its predecessor and few other television series, The Spoils Before Dying utilizes the wide 2.40:1 aspect ratio. You do notice some limitations of standard definition video in this DVD, but there are no issues to take to task like excessive compression. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is adequate and English SDH and Spanish subtitles are provided.

In the absence of extras, here is a look at the first of The Spoils Before Dying's two episode menus.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Like The Spoils of Babylon, Dying includes no bonus features at all.
Are they being withheld for some Blu-ray holding both series down the line? I kind of doubt it. But it still seems like a missed opportunity to distinguish this DVD of a series that has long been available to Netflix subscribers in high definition no less.

The few menus are all static and silent.

No slipcover tops the black keepcase and no insert joins the full-color disc inside.

Will Ferrell again opens and closes each episode as author-director-producer-alcoholic-malcontent Eric Jonrosh.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

It's easy to appreciate the uniqueness and originality of The Spoils Before Dying, but that doesn't make it all that easy or fun to watch. The random melodramatic parody seemed to wear out its welcome on the first miniseries, making this new tale even more of an endurance challenge. While there's just enough wit to make getting through it something you won't strongly regret, it's unlikely you'll want to see it more than once. That makes this completely barebones DVD hard to recommend, especially when you can watch it in HD on Netflix if you're a subscriber.

Buy The Spoils Before Dying from Amazon.com: DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
The Spoils of Babylon
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Cable Comedy: Drunk History: Seasons 1 & 2 • Drunk History: Season 3 • Check It Out with Dr. Steve Brule: Seasons 1 & 2
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Reviewed June 6, 2016.



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