TV tonight: ‘The Spoils of Babylon’ plus ‘Appalachian Outlaws’

Will Ferrell and Toby Maguire star in ‘The Spoils of Babylon.’ Photo: IFC/The Spoils of Babylon

WASHINGTON, January 9, 2014 – Remember the mini-series epidemic in the ‘70s and ‘80s that included such installments as “Rich Man, Poor Man” and “The Thorn Birds?” Tonight Will Ferrell’s production team will attempt to parody the bygone trend with “The Spoils of Babylon” on IFC.

For those of us long in the tooth who remember the parade of overblown drama and ridiculous plot twists often found in the mini-series genre, the opportunity to see it mocked could be intriguing. And for those too young to remember these cheesy productions, the allure of Will Ferrell in just about anything may be enough to attract a fresh audience.

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Each week of the six-episode series begins with Ferrell as Eric Jonrosh, the bestselling author of the fictional epic. He seems to be channeling Orson Welles as he introduces that night’s plot line.

“The Spoils of Babylon” also includes Tobey Maguire, Val Kilmer, Jessica Alba, Kristin Wiig and Tim Robbins.

With the considerable star power the cast has, the series certainly has the potential to be worth watching. But whether or not the younger viewers will make the connection or stare blankly at the screen while Ferrell and company mock the long dormant mini-series format remains to be seen.

“The Spoils of Babylon” airs tonight at 10 p.m. on IFC.

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Also tonight, History Channel proves yet again that it has become less about history and more about exploiting stereotypes. The misguided network rolls out its newest preposterous “reality” program, “Appalachian Outlaws.” The show features the foraging for and selling of ginseng, a resource so rare that it sells for up to $600 a pound.

According to a press release:

“’Appalachian Outlaws’ follows these unique characters in their quest to acquire this plant that affords many their livelihood. People will fight each other, steal it and risk jail time—or even their lives—to get their hands on it. In Appalachia, 401Ks are built on ginseng, moonshine and fur; feuds last for generations; and every day is a matter of survival.”

The only moonshine stills or feuds that still exist in Appalachia are the fictitious product of some money hungry reality show producer. History Channel certainly has it right when it states every day is a matter of survival, but the only 401K a lot of Appalachians once had disappeared long ago as a result of shady corporate machinations. What is left is a neglected region of America that is largely ignored except for the continued rape of its natural resources.

Here is a suggestion for an accurate reality show about Appalachia. Feature a family in which the father and mother each hold down a minimum wage job and fill the few hours left in their day by cutting firewood or making baked goods to sell. Show mom and dad working an ever-changing part time schedule at WalMart or McDonald’s. Part time means no benefits, another corporate trick that translates into life-long poverty for a work force with nowhere else to go.

Add in a couple of school age children who are trying to get a quality education within an outdated school system that is perpetually underfunded. Also, make sure the show includes a good portion of that extended family that has relocated out of the region in search of more attractive possibilities in pursuit of the American dream.

And let’s not forget at least one cousin or uncle who has been crippled due to having held a manual job in industries like coal mining or construction. Toss in a doctor who doles out addictive prescription pain killers to that cousin or uncle, and now we have a realistic portrayal of what it is like to try and live in Appalachia in the 21st century.

We certainly don’t fault the hill folks for digging ginseng to augment their dwindling incomes. But to describe them as “people who will fight each other, steal it and risk jail time—or even their lives—to get their hands on it” only reinforces the ridiculous Appalachian stereotype that History Channel seems intent on perpetuating.

For those viewers who want to learn little if anything about how people really live in the most exploited region of the country, tune in to “Appalachian Outlaws” tonight at 10 p.m. on History Channel.

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Lisa King

I was born and educated in Southwest Virginia, traveled with my job all over America in my twenties and early thirties then came back to the mountains to raise my daughter.

I’ve been employed as everything from a quality control technician in industrial construction, to a mail processing plant manager, to postmaster of a small town. I’ve been to forty nine of the fifty states, as well as many other countries. Traveling will always be a passion I indulge, and something I’ll call upon often in my writing. 

I come from a long line of story tellers, and will shamelessly exploit a family tree resplendent with colorful and unique characters, both past and present.

In short my perspective will reflect the pride and familiarity I have of my Appalachian heritage. My stories will be a reflection of the values I believe we hold dearest here, all embellished with a healthy dose of Southern Appalachian flare.


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