In 2014, Matt Piedmont and Andrew Steele created an IFC miniseries known as The Spoils of Babylon. Imdb.com understandably categorizes this star-studded miniseries as a comedy. This seems obvious due to its ridiculous toy backdrops, mannequins posing as characters, and intentional poor quality acting. The Spoils of Babylon was hypothetically created by author Eric Jonrosh, played by Will Ferrell. He opens the show introducing what he calls a masterpiece based on his best-selling novel, The Spoils of Babylon. However, Eric Jonrosh never describes his piece as a comedy. After looking closely at this comedic series, it becomes evident that the fictional creator, Eric Jonrosh, did not intend for his masterpiece to make his audience die of laughter. His goal was to create an emotional, melodramatic work of art.
Looking at the melodramatic genre, Jonrosh did not fail to fit this category. Comparing the miniseries to the Shakespearean tragedies Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth, two classics in the melodramatic genre, The Spoils of Babylon surprisingly shares many characteristics. Thinking about the overly passionate Romeo or the intensely selfish Lady Macbeth, the psychological breakdown of Macbeth, and the heart-wrenching forbidden romance between Romeo and Juliet. The exaggerated characters, intense psychological destruction, and highly emotional plots make Shakespearean tragedies famous and world renowned melodramas. The Spoils of Babylon do not fail to include these aspects.
The series stars Tobey Maguire as Devon Morehouse, the adopted son of Jonas Morehouse, played by Tim Robbins. Devon starts off as a young man walking in the middle of nowhere with no memory or name, and very little self-concept. Once adopted and raised by Jonas, he grows into an extremely intelligent and passionate man who feels passionately for his sister and often performs long monologues over the philosophies of life. Running parallel to Shakespeare’s Romeo, Devon also makes rash decisions to fill his empty stomach with passion and ends up losing his life in the process. Realistically, most men tend to think more logically, making characters like Devon or Romeo seem over-the-top and unrealistic.
The leading lady of The Spoils of Babylon, Cynthia Morehouse, performed by Kristen Wiig, also has an inflated personality. She comes off as a selfish and determined woman from the start of the show. Kristen Wiig’s young character introduces herself saying “I plan on being rich and powerful and beautiful and rich someday.” Her character lacks empathy or concern for anything besides money and her only love, and brother, Devon. Greed and lust consumes the character’s life and influences her decisions. Cynthia’s character is comparable to Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth. Both female leads refuse to stop until their selfish desires become fulfilled. They manipulate and murder the supporting characters and lose their minds along the way, leading to their tragic deaths. The characters’ lack of empathy far outweighs the characteristics of an average woman, causing them to fit the mold of an extravagant melodramatic character.
The characters of The Spoils of Babylon experience intense psychological breakdowns throughout the series. The loss of sanity occurs very commonly in the melodramatic genre, especially in Shakespeare tragedies. While the characters of Shakespeare’s plays and Jonrosh’s The Spoils of Babylon lose their minds in different ways, it is obvious that these characters lose their sanity in some form and for the same reasons, solely over excessive guilt or grief.
Macbeth hallucinates Banquo after Banquo’s murder because of the guilt and shame he experiences in killing him as well as King Duncan. His wife, Lady Macbeth, sleepwalks and reveals her secrets because of her guilt for plotting Duncan’s death. Devon Morehouse becomes addicted to heroin because of the grief he feels over the death of Lady Anne, later he becomes a drunkard due to the heartbreak he faces when he cannot love his sister. Cynthia Morehouse goes on a killing rampage, mourning the loss of Devon and the potential loss of her riches. Each tragic character has an unfortunate meltdown in their own way, adding to the melodramatic plots.
A huge aspect of the melodrama genre involves highly emotional plots. Both the audience and the characters experience intense sensations of euphoria, devastating heartbreak, jealousy, anger, and everything in between. From Star Crossed love to tragic deaths, The Spoils of Babylon and Romeo and Juliet are one in the same. Devon and Cynthia’s forbidden love entraps them on an emotional roller coaster for the remainder of their lives very similarly to the love of Romeo and Juliet. Both couples are filled to brim with joy when they are together but fall into deep despair when they are apart and realize the inevitability of their tragic fate. The main protagonists’ untimely deaths bring grief for not only the supporting characters but the audience as well.
The heartbreaking deaths of supporting characters incorporates more intense sorrow to a melodrama’s plot. The deaths in both Shakespeare and Jonrosh’s stories involve the slaughtering of characters left and right. Romeo kills Tybalt, Cynthia’s son murders Devon’s daughter, Macbeth murders Duncan, Cynthia burns Lady Anne to the ground, the bloodshed seems almost endless, and piles grief unto the protagonists and to the audience as well.
While The Spoils of Babylon is a hilarious comedy, it is important to appreciate how much work the original creators put in to qualify the series as both a comedy and a melodrama. The overly dramatic characters, deteriorating sanity, and fierce emotional plots make both the classic works of Shakespeare as well as The Spoils of Babylon a melodramatic experience.